Michigan Welfare Rights Organization
"You get what you are organized to take!"
Highland Park Human Rights Coalition (HPRHC)
What is the Highland Park Water Crisis? Download flyer (MS Word)
For the past several years in the city of Highland Park, thousands of residents and small businesses have had their water shut-off or have been threatened with water shut-off notices because they are unable to pay their exorbitantly high water and sewage bills. This situation has put many residents at risk of losing their home or children. In particular, many low-income seniors have had their water bills attached to their home property taxes as a lien. If this large bill—often thousands of dollars—is not paid, the home can be foreclosed upon and the senior can lose his or her home. For parents receiving Family Independence Agency assistance for their children, having no water in the home is cause for removal of the children.
The typical bill for most households is several hundred dollars every three months—far higher than the average national cost (see note below1). However, because of extensive billing delays by Highland Park financial managers, residents have been receiving water bills every six to nine months. Water bills recipients are then expected to pay these huge “estimate” water bills—again, often thousands of dollars—within a few days or risk shut-off. Furthermore, city clerks will not allow residents to make partial payments or payment arrangements, and repeatedly have been disrespectful and rude to these customers.
Small business owners have also been put at risk with the outrageous cost of water in Highland Park. Several businesses have been forced to close because the owners could no longer afford the cost of water, even if only for a small bathroom.
What is the Highland Park Human Rights Coalition?
The Highland Park Human Rights Coalition (HPHRC) is a large and open group of Highland Park residents, small business owners, and other local supporters who are concerned about the high water and sewage rates. The Coalition believes that water is a human right and no one, especially seniors and children, should be without water. Furthermore, the Coalition believes local officials should ensure that water rates are affordable and based upon a household’s ability to pay.
What is the Highland Park Human Rights Coalition doing to stop this attack against local residents and businesses?
Formed in early 2003, the HPHRC meets to discuss the local situation and develop plans of action to address the water bill problems. The Coalition has also been going door-to-door in neighborhoods across Highland Park to meet with residents and discuss their water bill situation. They have also organized citizen meetings with City Council and administrative officials, hosted several informational pickets and free BBQs at the Highland Park Municipal Building parking lot, broadcast a community town hall water meeting on WHPR, held a public question and answer forum with City Council candidates, went to Lansing to meet with our State representatives, met locally with Governor Granholm’s southeast Michigan staff, and have discussed our concerns with many other local politicians and staff about the water crisis. The Highland Park Human Rights Coalition is also working with statewide, national, and international organizations to bring attention to this water crisis—especially since Michigan is surrounded by 20% of the world’s fresh water! In 2004, the Coalition drafted a resolution to the City Council in support of a moratorium against water shut-offs until there is a full investigation of the water billing problems.
1 Note: According to a survey cited by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average annual household cost for water and sewer in the U.S. is $474. Highland Park residents pay nearly four times this amount! (http://www.epa.gov/ow/infrastructure/pricing/index.htm)
May 4, 2007
General Discussion of Highland Park water situation:
HP RESIDENTS FIND THEMSELVES WITH MORE DEBT
On May 4th, over two dozen residents and other community members came together for the restart of the Highland Park Human Rights Coalition. It had been over a year since the group last met and many people were delighted to see familiar friends and neighbors. Residents Marian Kramer and William Akbar called together the meeting to discuss the status of water shut-offs in the city and get ideas and suggestions from Coalition members on how to stop the continuing crisis. Several people reported that they are still receiving late water bills—some 6-12 months old—and others stated that many residents are finding their delinquent water bills attached t their property taxes. This tactic by Highland Park city officials is causing many homeowners to lose their homes due to liens against their property. City Council members at this meeting said that they are receiving fewer calls and complaints about water problems but many other residents believe this is because homeowners are suffering in silence with their water bill problems.
Members of the City Council also reported that they have been conducting an internal investigation of the former State appointed Financial Manager, Ramona Pearson, and her consultant, Jan Lazar. During the nearly five years that they spent in Highland Park, they did not improve the City’s financial situation and, in fact, left residents with an additional $9 million in debt from loans that they used mostly to cover their exorbitant salaries! One Council Member stated, “Instead of taking care of the bills and debt, they paid themselves.” Current officials have forwarded the matter to the Michigan State Attorney General with charges of fraud and have asked him to review the case and seek restitution or criminal charges against them.
RESIDENTS OF HIGHLAND PARK…
DO YOU NEED WATER THAT YOU CAN
On four Thursday afternoons in March and April 2003, residents of Highland Park and others from the surrounding community picketed in front of the City of Highland Park Municipal Complex. We have demanded that the city officials listen to our complaints about the outrageous water bills for our homes! As one resident stated, "Something is desperately wrong with the system!"
We will continue to meet until we are heard! The City of Highland Park claims that it has no money to go out and read the water bills at individual house holds, yet it continues to demand payments based on their erroneous and high "estimates."
One resident and former employee of the local water department reports, "I was there when the City put the meters in and they're no good! There's air in the line and the meter automatically runs on and on when there's air in it even if no water is running through." On top of this, Highland Park residents struggle with water pressure problems, and bursting underground valves. We've got to stop this!
This quarter, the bill is $100. Next quarter, it’s $300. Next quarter, it’s $600! Where will this madness end, and why won’t the Highland Park Water Dept. allow a payment plan that we can afford? Highland Park might be a poor community, but we are still human beings who demand a right to be treated like people and not like animals. A fire in our city is a threat to the property and to the lives of every Highland Park resident. Water is a right, and not a privilege. We invite residents of the great city and from Hamtramck, from Detroit, from Royal Oak and surrounding areas to join us at an emergency community meeting to discuss the current water crisis, the lights and gas crisis, and what we can do about it! BRING YOUR WATER BILLS!
Meetings are held every 1st and 3rd Thursday from 6-8 pm at the Highland Park Community College. For more information and a schedule or meetings, contact the MWRO at (313) 832-0618.
Coordinated by: Concerned residents of Highland Park, Detroit, Hamtramck, the Sweetwater Alliance, and the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.