Detroit's future is in court this week, as hearings to confirm the plan of adjustment for the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history begins.
As the bankruptcy hearing commences, we'll hear from banks, bond insurers, and other creditors vying to get their "fair" share from the city.
While those voices are loud, we cannot forget that there are thousands of everyday men and women whose lives are hinging on the bankruptcy judge's decision.
Paying for Detroit's Problems
For the past several decades, the economic problems have hit Detroit hard. The decline of the auto industry, the foreclosure crisis, and disastrous bond deals have left the city with massive debt and an expensive, aging infrastructure.
Those few, loyal residents who have remained represent the most vulnerable members of our society: students, the elderly and those living in poverty.
These residents pay the price for Detroit's problems. Though many live in poverty, they are forced to pay high property taxes, inflated auto and home insurance, and water bills that are among the highest in the country.
The cumulative effects of these high bills leave many stuck in a cycle of poverty that renders them unable to afford even the basic necessities of life, such as water.
Detroiters have gone to great lengths in an attempt to pay for problems and bad decisions that they did not create.
Yet the water department has been ruthless in its shutoff policy. Thousands were shut off before the department even had a plan in place to help people avoid losing their water.
The water department now spends more paying its debts than it does on serving its customers or repairing its crumbling infrastructure.
But for those struggling to pay for life-giving water, there is little in the way of help aside from a fund that relies on charitable contributions from corporate donors.
Even after Mayor Mike Duggan's announcement of a 10-point plan to help people make their payments, reports of continuing problems abound.
Insults Instead of Fixes
Instead of working with residents, the water department has stereotyped their customers as deadbeats refusing to pay.
The truth is that thousands of people are attempting get on a payment plan, struggling to pay what they can to restore their water service.
Many are families with young children living well below the poverty line, going without food or power to get their water turned back on. Some are elderly residents on a fixed income with few options.
It is sickening for any officials to imply these struggling Detroiters are bums who just don't want to pay their bills.
After all, what about the thousands of young children left without access to fresh water? Should they be demonized for not having the ability to pay a water bill?
The Fight for A Water System That Works
After a month-long moratorium, the city has resumed cutting off water service to homes at a staggering rate. Despite department policy, people are being cut off from water regardless of the age, health status or ability to pay.
A group of civil rights attorneys have filed a lawsuit for relief from the water department. The group is pushing for an affordability plan that ties water rates to a family’s income.
Yesterday, those lawyers asked for a continued moratorium on shutoffs and for water service to be restored, at least until the lawsuit is over.
Unlike those loud voices in the courtroom, these civil rights groups and lawyers won't be in court trying to win another $50 million for their clients.
They are fighting for water for children to brush their teeth on the first day of school. They're fighting for water for an elderly woman to shower. They're fighting for a woman to have a glass of water on a hot day without going to her neighbors or hauling water.
The rest of us must keep these people in our minds.
Detroit must not emerge from bankruptcy having filled the pockets of bankers while the water taps of Detroiters remain dry.
Key News & Documents
Read the letter to Detroit officials urging an immediate moratorium on water shut-offs
Read about the history of water rights over at Michigan Democracy Watch