Highland Park, MI: Families may lose homes over water bills

Protest against water rates and shutoffs in Highland Park, Michigan, once an affluent industrial town where workers thrived. PHOTO/DAYMONJHARTLEY.COM

Protest against water rates and shutoffs in Highland Park, Michigan, once an affluent industrial town where workers thrived.

Cathy Talbott of the People’s Tribune interviewed Eban Morales, a member of the Highland Park (Michigan) Human Rights Coalition about the water crisis facing many towns and cities in the state under the rule of corporate dictatorship. Highland Park was at one time a thriving industrial town built around the auto industry. Today it has about 9,000 residents that are low income, seniors, and retirees.

People’s Tribune: Why are the residents of Highland Park receiving outrageous water bills?
Eban Morales: In 2012 the city stopped sending out water bills. The mayor, without the authority to do so, shut down our water plant and put us on Detroit’s water and sewage system. The state ordered the mayor to do this after Highland Park got an emergency state loan to pay pensions. Then we were ordered to pay an appointed city administrator who took over the mayor’s duties as a condition for the loan. We are now in debt to Detroit because Highland Park wasn’t paying Detroit so we were sued for $24,000,000. All this is going on our property taxes. Now the residents are getting water bills for thousands of dollars. Even though we didn’t get bills for 14 months, there is no way we used that much water. There are homes that are unoccupied where the water is shut off and the owners got bills in the thousands. Some haven’t gotten water bills in four years. Then, under what they call the “wrap it up program,” residents were told to make arrangements to pay it off or their water would be shut off. My bill is over $4,500 and I could end up with over $20,000 in liens against my property. We risk losing our homes. And if water is shut off, those with children risk losing them. They’ve given us to June 30th.

PT: What are the residents doing to fight?
EM: We’ve reached out to elected officials who should have been there to help us but failed us. We’ve contacted John Conyers and others. They showed up when we had meetings and stood around long enough to see if we were a threat. When they found out we weren’t, they left. We had a rally among ourselves. I’m not a politician, not even an activist, but when it fell on my doorstep I had to organize to protect myself. That’s how we hooked up with Highland Park Human Rights Coalition. We have attorneys helping voluntarily with limited resources. It can only be resolved in court.

PT: What’s the next step if you lose in court?
EM: This problem is not unique to us. The water crisis is a statewide issue because of the governor’s attempt to establish this Water Authority. Hamtramck, Inkster, Flint, Benton Harbor, all these cities are facing this. People are living like in a third world country. So we’re trying to pull all these cities together.  Half the residents here haven’t awakened yet. They haven’t received any water bills. Technically Detroit can shut off the whole city with one valve.

For more information go to www.facebook.com/hphrc

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