taz.de, a German newspaper, wrote a story about Detroit’s water shutoffs and quoted co-founder Monica Lewis-Patrick (see quote toward the end of the article).

Click here for a pdf of the print layout of the article. See the online article here: Wasserlos in Detroit (in German).

taz de

Read a Google Translate version of the article in English below:

“Waterless in Detroit

WITHDRAWAL The US city is slowly recovering from its bankruptcy, sprout start-ups. The poorest but turn the water works en masse from the cables


For days the dishes piled in the sink. From the bathroom blows sour smell in the hallway. And in the front yard someone has sprayed a splash of color in neon blue on the water pipe. Everyone who passes the house can see it. In this Detroit Neon Blue means: Here live people who have not paid their water.

It is October. Nicole Hill, 44 years, every few days is in the car. She drives one and a half miles from the nearest supermarket and loading a cart with plastic bottles and plastic containers. By an employee they can help each other, everything should be balanced in the trunk of the car. At home, she drags the water with her children in the kitchen.

The procurement is so difficult and expensive that Hill thinks every time before using the water. When it boils, it keeps the rest for dishwashing. When she and her children wash their standing in front of a bucket, it collects the water in order to flush the toilet. The green-yellow linoleum floor has long ceased mopped.

Nicole Hill lives in one of the 50 largest cities in the United States, not far from her bungalow was the first production line in the world in operation, million cars were produced. In the shadow of the auto plants of Ford, GM or Chrysler, the American middle class grew. Detroit was a symbol of the success story of the whole country.

But if Hill turning up the faucet in their bungalow at the Burgess Street, is not a single drop. For the second time in a year it has been turned off the tap water. Because they could not pay their bill. As she is doing thousands in the city.

Her daughter is 14 and invites for months no friends to go home a. “I feel like an animal,” she said to her mother. My son is 13 and has tried Quip: “Maybe we can soon thaw snow Then we need no more tap water..”

“It’s hard for all of us,” says Nicole Hill. She is wearing sweatpants, a batik shirt and sitting on the sofa in her living room almost empty. She gets difficult air. Speaking she puts a little smile on her face. As can hide the misery you a little.

Protesters railing against “emergency dictator”

The life of Nicole Hill would be complicated enough already without the thing with the water. Of their seven children, the three youngest live with her. They are 8, 13 and 14. Hill educates them alone. She suffers from a chronic pain illness. Some days she manages to barely out of bed in the kitchen. She tries to complete a training on disaster assistant. And they must economize with a disability pension of 1,200 dollars a month. According to the statistics of the government in Washington but needs a family of four a minimum of $ 24,250 per year. Those who do not, is considered poor. In Detroit, 40 percent of the population live below the poverty line. As Nicole Hills family.

The car has her eldest son left her when he went back to the Army because he could not find another job. You paid that to which they can not do without. $ 300 rent. Heating. Food. The bare necessities for the children. For tap water is usually not enough.

When she pulls into the bungalow at the Burgess Street five years ago, you get the water bills immediately still far too high.You should pay each month more than 100, often more than $ 200. In this case, according to the data of the group Food & Water Watch for comparable homes and families in Detroit water costs 71 dollars a rule.

“The bills can not vote,” says Nicole Hill. “We still do not have a swimming pool.” It asks for at the waterworks. Suspected error in the records, or leaks in the pipes. The Waterworks long do nothing. When they finally react, they find nothing. Nicole Hill, the bills pile up.

Detroit is only a shadow of itself, the potential taxpayers are gone. The white middle class, the auto industry and most recently the black middle class. Of the 1.8 million population shrank to 700,000. Tens of thousands of houses are empty.The city of the Middle Class has become the poorhouse.

When the debts exceed the 18-billion-dollar mark, Detroit reports in July 2013 for bankruptcy – the largest community of the United States doing this step. The Governor of Michigan, a Republican from the right edge of the party, shall convene an emergency manager. Is to redevelop the budget of the traditionally Democratic Detroit and negotiate with creditors on debt reduction.

The manager closes schools, swimming pools and parks. It is reducing pensions and benefits for health insurance. He privatized garbage collection and the electricity grid. But he does not manage to reduce the claims of banks and insurance companies. Instead, he leaves them with the best real estate downtown. And he leased the island of Belle Isle, which was designed in the 19th century by the same garden architects such as Central Park in New York.

In May, it will disconnect the water

For the poorest the hardest year 2014. Before the soup kitchens there are long queues. In the Detroit area, where once the workers from the car factories in houses with gardens lived more than 26,000 people were in 2013, according to the Campaign to End Homelessness homeless. Pensioners whose annual income shrinks to less than $ 19,000 must decide whether to pay medical or heating costs. Protests men and women with white hair rant against the “emergency dictator”.

The Waterworks take tough action by: who is two bills and more than $ 150 in arrears does not get any more water. On average summer days they rotate 360 ​​households from the water. Until mid-November sprays the private Contractors Homrich, which has a two-year contract for these actions, 31,075 color blots on water pipes. This sits in every eight residents of the city on dry land.

Most patients scrape together everything they have, make a deposit and get water again. The waterworks this as confirmation that their strategy is working.

Since the beginning of 2015, the waterworks of Detroit no longer part of the community. The emergency manager has it been outsourced to a new regional structure: the Great Lakes Water Authority. It can be advised by the French company Veolia, which is specialized worldwide on the privatization of water utilities. Detroit’s elected politicians have no say. Instead, the city now collects $ 50 million a year for its water.

More than 13,000 households in Detroit remain without water. 35,000 people, the majority of women with children.

Nicole Hill just want to cook when she notices in May that their water is no longer running. You will instantly know that this is only a part of their problem. If their children are now staying with her, she risked next, losing custody of her. For a house without water is considered a health risk. Going a step further, she is threatened eviction. They quartered the three children a with an aunt at the other end of town. At night, there sneaks her youngest daughter out of the house. She feels homesick.Police find the child and bring it to her mother.

Hill’s lonely, she gets depressed. Only in the summer they have enough money to pay 10 percent of their debt. The water runs again. The children come back. But they have to spend at the waterworks now a third of their monthly income on water and their debts. In October it is disconnected for the second time the water.

Detroit is surrounded by large lakes. It has so much water than any other major city in the United States. Because the lakes contain the greatest water reserves in North America and 20 percent of the world’s available water reserves, also investors interested. But for consumers, water prices in the last 10 years have increased by 119 percent. In mid-summer 2014, the council raised prices again by 8.7 percent. Only private water utilities are even more expensive. Many Detroit fear that the entire water privatization is coming.

If all Waterless took to the streets, downtown would be crawling in front of people. But they do not do it. In the city, where earlier strong unions decided the wages for the middle class and the careers of politicians propose today most alone. You have lost hope that demonstrations and petitions to change something. “Tell me not want you at home have no water,” advises a teacher her students. Your school opens in the morning by 5 clock so that children can take a shower and wash their clothes. But if the teacher learned that the health of students at risk at home, they must report to their supervisor.

Directly opposite Nicole Hills house emblazoned neon blue color blobs in two other front gardens. A neighbor of the street wearing after dark plastic bottles with water in her house. When Nicole Hill appeals to it, she replies evasively: “We have no water problem.” Most prefer to remain silent.

The other family disappears after the splash of color has appeared in her front yard.

In their darkest moments Hill shoots the thought occurred to give away their children: “Because I can offer you no security.”But it is not one that gives up. “I stand with their backs to the wall,” she says, “I have no other option but to fight.”

Things are looking up. Start-ups settle down

Just a few minutes drive from the Burgess Street spirit of optimism. In the high-rise fire back light on all floors, rising real estate prices. Start-ups and larger companies settle down. Next year, a tram to go into operation, the swings in mid- and Downtown between the companies.

In the crisis years, two billionaires have divided the city of Detroit. One has bought 60 buildings in Downtown. Another has begun with the construction of a new hockey stadium and a complete new district with shopping center and 50 blocks of flats. On the streets fountains and benches are planned in the “Mediterranean style”. The public sector pays for 60 percent of the $ 450 million cost of building its stadium. The third arena in the most indebted city in the US is considered good for economic development.

Even in the districts of Middle Class something is happening. The candidate Jay Meeks has bought in the summer for $ 8000 a house. An electrician comes with a loaded 9-millimeter pistol on the belt to work, has renovated it. And Jay Meeks is spending his first winter in it. Meeks is 29, he grew up in the city. Has studied elsewhere. And came back, because he believes that things are looking up with his city. “Detroit has given me a lot,” he says. Now he wants to return.

An extension of the tramway up in the neighborhoods of the Middle Class is not planned. The gables, bay windows and half-timbered imitations of many single-family homes tell of the good old days. But their market value has shrunk dramatically within a few years. Often only a tenth of its value from before the recession. Your original inhabitants were placed in recent years to tens of thousands into the streets. Thousands of eviction is yet to come. The reason are always financial difficulties: in installments to the bank, on land taxes, on water costs. Once a house is empty, come the scrap collectors and pluck out boilers, pipes and electrical cables. Then run the basement full of water from destroyed pipes and go attics during short circuits in flames.

Cheap ridicule abandoned houses there are many in Detroit. Some are to have for $ 500. Others are bundled and go to investors – Hundreds of homes at a time. With 40,000 abandoned houses, for which no one pays more taxes or water, the city of Detroit intervene. During the emergency manager scours the finances of Detroit, an outline program begins the city-owned “land bank”. Currently, she destroyed at least 200 homes per week. “By demolish houses scrap, we save parts of the city,” said Craig Fahle, spokesman for the Land Bank. After the demolition of neighbors can buy the land for $ 100 as gardens.

In the summer, take as Canadian activists from the other side of the river from Detroit to distribute water, Nicole Hill stands legs in front of her bungalow, makes cameras against water and explained in interviews that there is a human right to water.A few months later she receives in October a delegation of the United Nations, who came to Detroit to inform himself about the water supply.

With nine other aquatic invertebrates and several human rights groups sued the Hill City. They demand an immediate halt to the punitive measures. Tap water should not cost more than 5 percent of their income, they argue. Prices must be based on consumer income. A few years ago also meant the most city councils of Detroit. Today it sounds a bit rebellious. A judge rejected the lawsuit. The applicants go to the next instance.

“We were shocked by the extent of the measures and how they meet the weakest, the poorest and the most vulnerable,” says a UN rapporteur after two days stay in Detroit. She has for the United Nations countries visited, where half of the population lives without access to water. But she has never seen “a comparably massive step backwards” as in Detroit.

It is sick. The water comes back

In late autumn Nicole Hill is seriously ill. A virus. You must go to the hospital. Her three youngest children are back with relatives. Your lawyer Alice Jennings organized a fundraiser. As Hill comes back, the water flowing again. 77 days she was in 2014 without water.

Again she now pays more than a third of their income on water and water debt. The city does not help her. After the protests, it has instituted a fund for the socially disadvantaged with the money of private sponsors, but that is just a few days yet. Nicole Hill would anyway not eligible for assistance from the Fund. Their water debts do not meet the criteria: they are too high.

Since 10 December 2014, the bankruptcy process is complete. The Mayor shall govern the city. Once he has the accountant of the bankruptcy teams pay: 170 million dollars.

The town hall is called a “fresh start”. Activists in Detroit beg to differ. Your suggestions for reorganizing the city finances were rejected. “The emergency manager’s task was to privatize” the Director of Education, Elena Herrada is convinced. My body had fought in vain for obtaining newly renovated schools. The hip-hop artist and Ökoaktivist William Copeland of the group EMEAC believes that emergency management served to “get around the system of democratic control.” And Monica Lewis Patrick of the People of Detroit called a “water war that is directed against the poor and black people.”

Nicole Hill’s dream to go. Like most African American families in Detroit comes their originally from the south. The work in the booming auto industry was an improvement after generations in the cotton fields. Today, Hill believes that Detroit will only “influential people” have. “I can all this talk of the greatest nation in the world and the unlimited possibilities not hear,” she says, “pure hypocrisy. This town wants arms as get rid of me.”

She is standing in her front yard. She still has a roof over your head, but homelessness is lurking. On the same side of the street, not even ten feet away from her front yard, gapes a ruined house. The innards are torn out. Once they get knocked out, afraid Nicole Hill will happen the same with her bungalow.

Dorothea Hahn reported for the taz from the USA
Anja Weber is a freelance photographer in Berlin”

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