Statement of Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter
Washington, D.C. – “On Wednesday, the Board of Water Commissioners will vote on a proposal by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) that would increase water and sewer rates for Detroit residents by a combined 12.8 percent. If approved by the City Council, this double-digit rate hike — the largest in a decade — will become effective July 1. Implementing rate increases in the absence of an affordability plan is insensible and flies in the face of a water crisis that has affected Detroiters since 2004, intensifying over the past year. Rate hikes will only make water less affordable for the half of city households who cannot afford and are more than 60 days past due on their water bills, ultimately perpetuating the crisis and threatening public health.
“Detroiters need access to safe, clean, affordable water. While rate increases are necessary in order for DWSD to improve infrastructure, further steps are needed to ensure that city residents can then afford the service. Almost 40 percent of Detroiters and more than half of Detroit’s children live in poverty, and Detroit’s unemployment rate is more than twice the national rate. As a result, many families are forced to decide between putting food on the table, paying the electric bill or keeping the water on, a choice that nobody should have to make. These problems are indicative of broader, systemic issues resulting from decades of policies that put profits before people. Now is the time for Detroit to implement a policy that addresses both the city’s infrastructure needs and residents’ financial needs.
“Detroit City Council and the DWSD should not hike residential water and sewer rates until the DWSD fully implements the water affordability plan passed by the council in 2006. An income-based approach to water bills is the most equitable option. Additionally, Detroit and communities across the country need a renewed federal commitment to our water and sewer infrastructure. To meet this need, Congress should create a dedicated source of federal funding to the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds, and renew the Build America Bonds program.”