When news broke that more than 8,000 residents of the city of Flint, Mich., were threatened with the loss of their homes over unpaid water bills, the public outcry was loud and swift. Penalizing residents who didn’t pay a bill for water they couldn’t use was indeed ridiculous, and on Wednesday, the City Council voted to end that policy.
Council President Kerry Nelson told Michigan Radio that he received numerous calls to his office pleading for the practice to stop, and the council passed a resolution that puts a yearlong moratorium on placing tax liens on properties with unpaid water bills.
“Too numerous to tell you how many; the calls have been coming in,” Nelson said. “Enough is enough. I’ve made up my mind tonight to do what I need to do for the people who elected me.”
Council members said that city residents already struggle to afford Flint’s high water rates, which are reportedly the highest in the country for this quality of water, and some residents just flat out refused to pay for water that could not be used without a filter.
As previously reported on The Root, more than 8,000 residents who have unpaid bills received notices that if their balances are not paid by Friday, a tax lien would be placed on their homes. Those who received the notices have water bills that have not been paid for six months or more.
City leaders in support of the liens said they were in a bind and needed the cash.
However, unless Mayor Karen Weaver vetoes the council resolution, those residents will no longer have to worry about tax liens for now.
From Michigan Radio:
The resolution states that no water account with a delinquent balance dating back to April 2014 will have liens placed on the corresponding property. Councilman Eric Mays abstained from voting on the resolution; the remaining eight Council members all voted in favor.
Nelson says the city attorney and chief financial officer called his office urging him not to pass a moratorium on placing liens on properties because the city needs the revenue.
“It’s time out for that,” Nelson told Michigan Radio. “The people of this city are suffering. They’re troubled, they’re at their wits’ end. ... We’ve got to do what we can do. I’ve done what I can do.”
Mays told Michigan Radio that he abstained from voting because he never had a chance to review the resolution, and he had unanswered legal questions about it.
“The ordinance can’t go back retroactively and pull liens off houses that have already been lost. That was the main reason,” Mays said.
Prior to the council meeting, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund stepped in and urged the City Council “to suspend local efforts to impose property liens on thousands of Flint homeowners for failing to pay delinquent bills for contaminated municipal water—which has been unsafe to drink for more than three years,” the Detroit Metro Times reports.
From the Metro Times:
Kary Moss, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan described the water bills as exorbitant and unjust, and told the Council, “The city has the power to put a moratorium on home foreclosures which is the only equitable solution resulting from this tragedy. The suffering of Flint residents should not be compounded by the loss of their homes.”
Moss added: “No one should be expected to pay for water that is not safe, and that has caused so much physical, psychological and financial damage. In a city where residents have been crying out for justice, even more injustice is being proposed.”
Michigan Radio reports that Mayor Weaver was also sent a copy of the letter from the ACLU and NAACP LDF, and she responded in a Tuesday statement saying her hands were tied by a city ordinance.
“The city of Flint is legally obligated to comply with some city and state statutes that are not suitable or appropriate when you consider the extenuating circumstances we are still facing,” Weaver said.