Over 8,000 Flint, Mich., families are facing the loss of their homes due to unpaid bills for poisoned water. The delinquent water bills, totaling $5 million over the past two years, are now being tacked onto property taxes, subjecting the families to tax foreclosure.
It was during this two-year time period that Flint residents discovered their children had been lead-poisoned. This happened because the state-appointed “emergency manager” — a dictator — decided to stop getting city water from Detroit and draw, instead, from the Flint River. His decision to not spend money on anti-corrosive additives caused lead in aging pipes to leach into the water supply.
To this day, residents still cannot drink their water without filters, are forced to rely on bottled water, and suffer skin rashes, hair loss and breathing issues from showering. The process of replacing lead service lines is proceeding very slowly; most of the pipes are still lead-based.
What makes this policy even more contemptuous is that $200 million in federal dollars are sitting unspent, money that could pay these delinquent tax bills. These funds are what remain of Michigan’s allocation under the Helping Hardest Hit Homeowners Program. Of the $750 billion bank bailout fund under the Troubled Assets Relief Program, a mere $9 billion nationally and $761 million for Michigan was provided to keep families in their homes.
Instead of using these federal funds for their intended purpose, however, the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, which administers the funds, is diverting the vast majority of this money to tear down homes. The “blight elimination” programs in Detroit and Flint operate with no supervision and have been subject to federal and state audits for corruption. In contrast, MSHDA creates so many obstacles for poor families who try to access these funds to pay delinquent tax bills and mortgages that the homeowners for whom the funds were intended are denied any assistance.
In the city of Detroit, the Great Lakes Water Authority has started a new round of water shutoffs, with 18,000 households facing shutoff. That is on top of the 83,000 residential water shutoffs that occurred in the years 2014-2016. (bridgemi.com, May 2) Thirty-one thousand occupied homes in Detroit are also subject to seizure by Wayne County for tax foreclosures this year.
In 2015, the United Nations Special Rapporteurs for Water and Housing declared the crisis in Detroit a “retrograde” crisis, meaning it is a product of a developed capitalist system moving backwards in meeting the most basic needs of the people as a result of corporate greed.
The new Coalition to Stop Tax Foreclosures is holding a town hall meeting in Detroit in June to galvanize the struggle against tax foreclosures and water shutoffs in Detroit and Flint.
For more information, visit moratorium-mi.org or join the Moratorium NOW! Coalition group on Facebook.