Joint Press Statement by Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living and to right to non-discrimination in this context, and Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation Visit to city of Detroit (United States of America) 18-20 October 2014
20 October 2014 Upon invitation from civil society organizations, we visited the city of Detroit (Michigan – USA) from 18 to 20 October 2014. The purpose of this informal visit was to learn more about the impact of water disconnections on the living conditions of individuals and households and on their human rights to water, sanitation and housing, and to discuss international standards on human rights.During the visit, we went to different parts of Detroit and met with people whose water had been shut off and others who are struggling to pay expensive water bills to avoid shut-offs. We listened to stories from single mothers with low income, older persons, people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. We also discussed the situation with Mayor Duggan, City Council, Congressman Conyers, civil society organizations, Detroit water department workers, and with lawyers.Detroit is undergoing large-scale water disconnections. This year alone, at least 27,000 households have had their services disconnected. While it is not the first time in recent decades that city residents are confronted with such a critical situation, the scale of water shut-offs carried out by a contracted company since last year is an unprecedented level. The utility has passed on the increased costs of leakages due to an aging infrastructure onto all remaining residents by increasing water rates by 8.7 percent. This, combined with the decreased number of customers, and increased unemployment rate, has made water bills increasingly unaffordable to thousands of residents in Detroit living under the poverty line. In addition, repeated cases of gross errors on water bills have been reported, which are also used as a ground for disconnections. In practice, people have no means to prove the errors and hence the bills are impossible to challenge.