The ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund today urged the Flint City Council to suspend local efforts to impose property liens on thousands of Flint homeowners for failing to pay delinquent bills for contaminated municipal water—which has been unsafe to drink for more than three years.
Calling for council support of a proposed ordinance that would impose a moratorium on the placement of liens on Flint homes for unpaid water bills, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss described the water bills as exorbitant and unjust.
"The city has the power to put a moratorium on home foreclosures which is the only equitable solution resulting from this tragedy. The suffering of Flint residents should not be compounded by the loss of their homes," said Moss, who authored the letter. “Flint residents pay some of the highest water rates in the country, rates that were set by the former emergency manager whose actions in this crisis have been thoroughly discredited. The State should step in and fix this problem it caused.”
The Flint City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance at its meeting on Wednesday night.
The letter, which was also sent to Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, recounts the arc of the Flint Water Crisis, which began in 2014 after a state-appointed emergency manager switched the city’s municipal water supply from the Detroit water system to the corrosive Flint River. The harsh, untreated river water leeched lead from the pipes into the city’s water supply, exposing the entire city to lead poisoning.
The water has also been found to contain carcinogens and bacteria that cause Legionnaire’s Disease. A spike in Legionnaire’s in Flint was traced back to the water supply.
Noting the health problems created by the water crisis, the letter raises the prospect of Flint officials adding to residents’ burdens.
“The moral and ethical issues are clear,” the letter reads. “No one should be expected to pay for water that is not safe, and that has caused so much physical, psychological and financial damage. In a city where residents have been crying out for justice, even more injustice is being proposed.”
The letter also raises concerns that the liens could be illegal because the City breached an implied contract to provide water that is safe to drink without a filter, and because of a court order prohibiting the Flint from collecting water service charges imposed before July 1, 2015.
“The city of Flint, Michigan, is already a byword for America’s failure to guarantee equal access to the basic necessities of life,” said NAACP LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “In attempting to force Flint residents to pay for contaminated water – and in threatening them with the loss of their homes if they fail to meet those onerous payments – Flint has succeeded only in compounding a national disgrace. Enough is enough; the city council should do the right thing and enact this necessary ordinance.”