In Flint, Overdue Bills for Unsafe Water Could Lead to Foreclosures

General, United States

The letters came as a shock to some Flint homeowners who had already been struggling to deal with the public health crisis caused by contaminated water.

“While I understand this is the way that the law reads, we are in a totally different situation,” Melissa Mays, a Flint resident and activist, said in an interview with Fox 66 News, a local news affiliate. The city is asking her for $891.60 in overdue payments to avoid foreclosure.

“I got scared, for probably the first time since this all started,” Ms. Mays said. “This actually scared me.”

Flint’s water crisis can be traced back to 2014, when the financially struggling city went under emergency management. State appointees began getting drinking water from the polluted Flint River, rather than the more expensive Detroit water system.

Concerns over lead contamination reached a fever pitch in 2015. One study published in the American Journal of Public Health last year found that the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood doubled after the switch, which has also been linked to 12 fatal cases of Legionnaires’ disease.

The crisis culminated in a switch back to the Detroit water system in October 2015, as well as felony charges against Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, the emergency managers who had been appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder.

In a March settlement with Flint residents and national advocacy groups, Michigan agreed to spend $87 million to replace lead pipes in the city. The state also offered credits to help Flint residents pay their water bills until February, shortly after the state announced that lead in the city’s drinking water had been reduced enough to comply with federal regulations.

But the city acknowledged last week that “up to 20,000 Flint residences still have lead and galvanized service lines that need to be replaced,” adding that it hoped to replace service lines for 6,000 homes this year.

Because of the continuing issues with aging pipes, thousands of Flint residents are still at risk from high lead levels.

Mayor Karen Weaver of Flint said in a statement on Wednesday that the city’s requests for payment on overdue water and sewage bills are in accordance with local laws.

But, she added, “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.”

The mayor’s office pointed out that the city had already been working to help residents pay their water bills, citing programs including one that uses a $100,000 grant from United Way to provide matching funds to low-income residents.

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Source: New York Times

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