Baltimore, FL -- Today City Council President Brandon Scott joined water advocates and the author of the new NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF)’s report -- Water/Color: A Study of Race and the Water Affordability Crisis in America’s Cities -- to present the findings and urge Baltimore to pass the Water Accountability & Equity Act.
This report comes right after the Baltimore Department of Water Works announced that families can expect to see even higher water bills to account for bills that couldn’t be sent out as a result of the recent ransomware debacle.
Racial residential segregation is directly correlated with water affordability, water access, and water billing issues. In Baltimore, the current water crisis closely follows a widely known racial division, the “black butterfly,” or the location of predominantly black neighborhoods.
Some key findings of the report:
- Water rates in Baltimore are rising more rapidly than the national average. From 2010 to 2018, the cost of water service in Baltimore increased by 127 percent.
- Given Baltimore’s high rates, it’s no surprise that many residents are unable to afford their water bills.
- Baltimoreans who face the most detrimental impacts of rising water bills are disproportionately Black.
- In 2019, water bills will exceed two percent of Black median income in 118 of 200 census tracts. Sixty-five percent of the Black population in Baltimore lives in these tracts. Only 19 of the 118 tracts are not majority-Black.
- In recent years, Baltimore has become more aggressive in handling delinquent water and wastewater accounts.
- Water shutoffs have been a pervasive problem in the city
- Baltimore’s water bill dispute process likely violates constitutional due process protections.
- The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that a state may not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. Due process claims can be procedural, addressing the right to notice and a hearing before a deprivation, and services provided by public utilities are considered property interests for procedural due process purposes.
“The NAACP LDF’s report shows one thing for certain: Black communities in our city have been hit hardest by the skyrocketing water rates and that is absolutely unacceptable,” said City Council President Brandon Scott.” “Last November, Baltimore’s voters passed my equity charter amendment with overwhelming numbers. It’s clear our city is ready to implement policies to reverse racial disparity and this report leaves no doubt that passing the Water Accountability & Equity Act is top on that list.”
“Our groundbreaking research confirmed that water rates in Baltimore are rising more rapidly than the national average,” said Coty Montag, Senior Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and author of Water/Color. “We drilled down on a key 2017 Food & Watch study by looking at the specific impact of rising water rates on the predominantly Black population. Low-income families of color are being forced out of their homes because of these water prices. LDF supports the Water Accountability and Equity Act, which would provide for income-based billing for impoverished residents and other critical customer protections.”
“The data revealed here is damning for racial injustice Baltimore,” said Rianna Eckel from Food & Water Watch. “Without the passage of the Water Accountability & Equity Act, Baltimore’s leaders are leaving one of the most vulnerable and historically oppressed populations in the city out to dry. Health, quality of life, and constitutional rights are at stake here. The findings add even more impetus for the passage of this bill, and the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition will ensure that it happens.”
“During the Jim Crow years Black Baltimoreans were subjected to the indignity of segregated water fountains and swimming pool. It is shameful that in 2019 African Americans have to contend with racial inequity with the municipal water and sewer system,” said Reverend Kobi Little, President of the NAACP Baltimore City Branch. Now is the time for city leaders to do the right thing. Now is the time to pass legislation that guarantees that people of color in Baltimore benefit from water that is healthy, service that is high quality and rates that are fair and equitable.”
“The NAACP LDF’s gives us the data to prove that what many of us have experienced is true: Black Baltimoreans are disproportionately impacted by the rising water rates, water shut-offs and water tax lien sales,” said Reverend Alvin Gwynn, President of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore City. “It is our moral obligation as a city to support the Water Accountability & Equity Act, to start achieving racial equity within our community’s water system.”
“Even though they make up 53% of Baltimore City households, renters are treated as a second class when it comes to water bills. The City is happy to take their money at the counter, but when it comes to excessive bills and critically needed affordability programs, renters are ‘not the customer; and are simply turned away,” said Zafar Shah, Attorney with Public Justice Center. “In Baltimore, a customer's access to water depends on property ownership. This means that access to water is enmeshed in the legacy of racial covenants, Jim Crow, and redlining. Two-thirds of the City’s renting households are Black, and overall, Black renting households comprise 35 percent of all occupied homes in Baltimore City. These are the households that the City ignores when it says, ‘Renters are not our customers.’”