The City of Flint, Mich., is still billing residents for unsafe tap water. Now, those who can’t afford to pay — or simply refuse to — are at risk of losing their homes.
The city put more than 8,000 residents on notice last month, threatening tax liens on their homes if they failed to pay their outstanding water bills, local station NBC 25 reported. The warning letters were mailed just weeks after state officials axed the program helping people pay their water bills after the city’s water system became tainted with lead. Now, residents are faced with losing their homes to foreclosure or paying full price for water they still can’t drink without a filter.
“I got scared for probably the first time since this all started,” Flint resident Melissa Mays told the news station. “This actually scared me.”
Mays received a letter in the mail last week telling her she needed to pay nearly $900 by May 19 or risk a tax lien being placed on her property. Although she doesn’t want to, the mother and local water activist said she plans to pay up in order to keep her home.
“While I understand this is the way the law reads, we are in a totally different situation,” Mays said.
Stay-at-home-mom-turned-activist Nakiya Wakes, 41, is choosing to take an alternative approach — she’s not going to pay her water bill at all.
“I’m not going to give them one penny,” Wakes told the Toronto Star of her $822.62 bill in March, shortly before the warning letters were mailed out. She explained how she suffered two miscarriages before state leaders warned pregnant women not to drink the water. Now, Wakes suspects the lead is responsible for her 8-year-old son’s troubling behavior at school.
Not only have the pricey bills put residents in a financial bind, but the city claims it’s stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of revenue as well. Flint leaders said more than $5.8 million in water and sewer charges still need to be collected.
“We have to have revenue coming in, so we can’t give people revenue … I mean, excuse me, give people water at the tap and not get revenue coming in to pay those bills,” Al Mooney of the City of Flint Treasury Department said.
Mooney expressed hope that the 8,002 warning letters would prompt more residents to pay their water bills, as the city is strapped for cash. Full payment of all the bills would ultimately earn Flint nearly $6 million, according to NBC 25.
The city’s water became contaminated nearly three years ago after a state-appointed emergency manager switched Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The corrosive water caused lead to leach into the drinking water, sickening thousands of residents. More than 10 former and current state officials have since been charged for their negligence in the matter and are accused of ignoring residents’ concerns about the tainted water.
In a statement Thursday, May 4, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver expressed support for residents impacted by the treasury department’s threats.
“I must say, I agree with those who have spoken out against this process,” Weaver said. “I have met with our interim city attorney and finance director and they say the city is obligated by local ordinance to follow this procedure and we must follow the law.”
“As the mayor of Flint and as a Flint resident, I understand the concerns that have been raised and I am working to see if any changes or something can be done to help those affected by this, especially given the extraordinary circumstances we have endured due to the water crisis,” she added.
Congressman Dan Kildee echoed the mayor’s sentiments but argued that residents shouldn’t be forced to pay for unclean water.
“Flint families should not have to pay for water that they still cannot drink and they certainly should not lose their homes over this ongoing water crisis that was caused by the callous decisions of state government” Kildee said. “It is unfortunate that Gov. Snyder ended water credits for Flint families. I opposed this decision because Flint families deserve support from the state until there is confidence in the water system again.”
A city spokeswoman said Flint residents will have until next February to pay their bills before the county is called on to enforce warnings.