Residents, Civil Rights Attorneys Urge Judge to Restore Water Services Until Litigation is Resolved

DETROIT – In an effort to preserve a moratorium on water shut-offs, a group of Detroit
residents and civil rights attorneys filed court documents over the
weekend asking a judge to immediately block the Detroit Water and
Sewerage Department (DWSD) from terminating water service to any
occupied residence, and to require the restoration of service to
occupied residences without water.

The moratorium is currently scheduled to end today. The ACLU of Michigan
and NAACP Legal Defense fund are serving as expert consultants in the
ongoing litigation.

“Without a continued moratorium on water shutoffs, thousands more Detroiters,
mostly low income children, seniors, and disabled, will immediately be
at risk for shutoff,” says Alice Jennings of Edwards & Jennings,
P.C., counsel in the lawsuit, “A comprehensive water affordability plan,
a viable bill dispute process, specific polices for landlord-tenant
bills and a sustainable mechanism for evaluating the number of families
in shutoff status or at risk for shutoff, is necessary prior to lifting
the DWSD water shutoff moratorium.”

The motion for a temporary restraining order filed yesterday is part of a class action lawsuit, Lyda et.al v. City of Detroit, on behalf of Detroit residents affected by the mass
shut-off campaign of DWSD, as well as organizations active in the fight
for the restoration of and affordable access to water including Michigan
Welfare Rights Organization, People’s Water Board, National Action
Network-Michigan Chapter and Moratorium Now!. This suit is currently in
bankruptcy court before Judge Stephen Rhodes as part of the city’s
bankruptcy proceedings.

The lawsuit argues that the DWSD began water shutoffs without adequate
notice and against the most vulnerable residents, while commercial
entities with delinquent accounts were left alone. The suit also argues
that this violates the plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection
rights.

“More than 17,000 homes have had their water cut off and water bills in
Detroit are among the highest in the country and unaffordable to many
Detroit residents,” says Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director.
“The rush to resume shut offs when there are serious questions about
the affordability plan, accuracy of bills, and issues with the water
department’s ability to process disputes, means that the City of Detroit
should get its house in order before turning off anyone else’s water.”

In March, DWSD began dispatching private contractors to begin shutting off
water service to residents who are more than 60 days delinquent, or owe
more than $150. Despite the fact that 38 percent of the population
lives below the poverty line, the shut-offs began without a plan to help
those who cannot pay.

After public outcry and this lawsuit, the city implemented a moratorium and
announced a 10-point plan to address the dysfunctions raised by the
lawsuit and civil rights groups.

“The mayor’s plan only consists of proposals and temporary fixes,” said Rev.
Charles Williams of the National Action Network-Michigan Chapter.
“Until actual policies are in place to ensure that residents have access
to affordable water, the water shut-offs cannot be resumed. The current
proposal for residents to enter into non-negotiable payment plans is
only a short-term solution.”

Last month, the ACLU of Michigan and NAACP LDF wrote a letter to city
officials arguing that that the poorly implemented and uneven DWSD
shut-off policy violates the civil and human rights, as well as the due
process rights of residents because it often fails to provide them with
adequate notice and a hearing that takes into account whether they
actually have the ability to pay.

“DWSD must immediately restore water to all its customers,” said Sherrilyn
Ifill, President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
“In addition, they should create a reasonable timetable for a hearing
and appeals process, pending resolution of these issues.”

Attorneys for residents are calling on Judge Rhodes to order DWSD to extend the
moratorium to ensure that the most vulnerable Detroiters are not left
without water. The moratorium on shut offs should be extended until DWSD
has policies in place to ensure that collections are done in a way that
doesn’t violate residents constitutional rights.

Tawana Petty, an activist with the People’s Water Board Coalition, echoed
these sentiments. “We are asking the Governor, Mayor, Emergency Manager
and the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to stop their assault on
the citizens of Detroit and restore all water to residents. Water is
life and without it, we perish.”

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