Thirsty in Detroit

By Tom Airey

May 10, 2016

City and corporate leaders (and their suburban cheerleaders) have narrated Detroit’s water crisis as a tutorial on how poor people ought to manage their household budgets, accusing them of “paying their cable bill but not the water bill.” One former city council member proclaimed that residents who can’t pay their bills ought to go down to the river with their buckets.

The reality on the ground, however, tells a different story. In 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency set a standard for affordability: no American ought to pay more than 2.5 percent of his or her income on water. At $75 per month, the average water and sewerage bill in Detroit is about twice the national average. In many cases, this cost far exceeds the EPA’s mandate. In most of Detroit’s neighborhoods, unpaid water bills are a result not of apathy or absentmindedness, but of abject poverty.”