FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DETROIT – A civil rights coalition including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (ACLU), Legal Defense Fund (LDF), and Michigan Poverty Law Program (MPLP), has filed a motion with the U.S. District Court asking that it order the City of Detroit not to resume water shutoffs when its current moratorium expires on December 31.
Although the City of Detroit created a water affordability program called Lifeline that officials claim exempts enrollees from shutoffs, some residents have not been able to enroll and are uncertain if they qualify for the program. Other issues related to the program are likely to leave many water customers unprotected from the threat of loss of water service.
This request is part of the ongoing class action federal lawsuit the civil rights coalition filed in 2020, Taylor v. City of Detroit, alleging that water shutoffs violate due process, equal protection, the Fair Housing Act, and state law. In 2014, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) initiated the largest residential water shutoff in U.S. history and terminated water service to more than 20,000 Detroit residents for lack of payment, without regard to residents’ health needs or their ability to pay their monthly water bill. From 2014 to 2019, more than 141,000 Detroit households had their water shutoff for non-payment, including some families who lived with disconnected water service for years. Water shutoffs were stopped during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the City’s moratorium on shutoffs is set to expire at the end of this year.
Mark P. Fancher, ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project staff attorney, released this statement:
“Clean running water should flow in all Detroit households beyond 2022 as well as become affordable for everyone. Our lawsuit shows that water shutoffs are devastating to poor families, with a particular impact on Black families in violation of civil rights laws. The City has an obligation to avoid making a public health crisis worse. We are therefore asking the court to maintain the status quo, and extend the current moratorium on water shutoffs until the issues in our lawsuit have been fully adjudicated.”
Santino Coleman, Legal Defense Fund attorney, released this statement:
“People should not be punished for being poor and Black. If state and city officials are serious about ending structural racism, as they claim to be, they can start by putting an end to Detroit’s water shutoff policy for good while maintaining an effective water affordability plan.”
Alice B. Jennings, founding partner of Edwards & Jennings, PC, released this statement:
“Honest and reasonable people can’t deny the hardships caused by water shutoffs. It will be a tragic irony if they are allowed to continue even as a case that can end them is pending in the court.”
Lorray Brown, Michigan Poverty Law Program attorney, released this statement:
“While the will and the means to eradicate poverty may not be at hand, we should at least do what we can to protect people from its ravages. Detroit can keep water flowing in all homes during this difficult period, and it should.”
An expedited ruling on the motion has been requested.
In addition to Fancher, Coleman, Jennings, and Brown, other attorneys on the case include: Jason Bailey of the Legal Defense Fund, Dan Korobkin and Bonsitu Kitaba-Gaviglio of the ACLU of Michigan, and Detroit attorneys Melissa El Johnson and Kurt Thornbladh.