by Shea Howell
The Detroit City Council has finally acknowledged the importance of a Water Affordability Plan. In a strong show of unanimous support last week the Council passed a resolution to take the first steps toward reassessing the water rate structure. The Council also resolved that the Mayor’s massive water shut offs be put on hold.
This is the first official recognition that the Mayor’s plan of using charity to offset water bills is unsustainable. It is recognition that we need a new approach.
That new approach was embraced by the City Council more than a decade ago, when the Council passed the Water Affordability Plan in 2005. This was a proactive plan, designed to keep the water flowing to all residents while providing the money needed to maintain and improve the system. At the core of the Water Affordability Plan is the idea that rates should be set by percentage of income, not use. The recommended government guideline is between 2% and 3% of household income. Many Detroiters are now paying more than 20% of their incomes for water.
This burden led to massive water shut offs and a plan cobbled together by the Mayor last summer. Its failure is evident as we are again facing up to 34,000 shut offs starting this month.
The Council’s action is critical in bring sanity to this inhuman situation. It is asking the Mayor to stop being reactive and to acknowledge that he needs to reassess his approach. We can provide water and fulfill our obligations as stewards of this precious necessity of life. That is the heart of a Water Affordability Plan.
This new thinking is especially needed as the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) is currently being shaped by the Mayors reactive view of water assistance. Under the leadership of the Mayor and his representative, Gary Brown, the Great Lakes Water Authority has been resisting every effort to discuss true affordability.
In the classic case of the fox in the hen house, the GLWA is depending on agencies like the United Way to develop “assistance plans.” In fact the newly emerging agency is heavily loaded with organizations that will benefit by being awarded hefty contracts to administer dollars to turn on those who are shut off.
As the city council resolution states the formation of this regional authority “presents a unique, virtually once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to quantify and evaluate the value (particularly in terms of quality of life in southeastern Michigan) of furnishing essential water services based upon a sustainable, proactive, affordability model.”
This opportunity will be squandered if the Mayor does not reevaluate his foolish attachment to “assistance.”
To help him begin new thinking, he should read the entire City Council resolution. He should get rid of Gary Brown as his representative to the GLWA. He should replace him with Deputy Mayor Carol O’Cleireacain. While at the Brookings Institute she wrote a report on the water system of the District of Columbia and said, “Clean water is non-negotiable and expensive. … the region needs a better financing system beyond [that city’s] narrow rate base.” This is the kind of regional, creative thinking we need to move forward.
This Monday community members and concerned citizens are will gather at the Spirit of Detroit at 9am to demand an end to water shut offs and a water affordability plan. Join us.