Apparently, Detroit Needs More Abandoned Houses

Apparently, Detroit does not have enough blighted neighborhoods. The Detroit Water Department is creating thousands more abandoned houses every month by cutting off water service to occupied houses. Make no mistake about it, the policy originated with Governor Snyder and Emergency manager Orr. It is an expression of what they actually value.

It is entirely obvious this will not help the stated goal of economic revival, or at least not economic revival for the current impoverished people living in Detroit. It does not help these people in any way. It makes poor people more desperate and drives them away. This is not incompetence from the Emergency Manager, or just an unintended consequence. Plenty of us have told him what effect this policy has. The policy continues.

It is good that the United Nations declared this is a violation of basic human rights. What would a policy respecting human rights look like? There are actually examples that should be emulated here and everywhere. The quote below is excerpted from “The Right to Water in Belgium,” an International Environmental Law Research Centre briefing paper, downloaded from http://www.ielrc.org/content/f0802.pdf:

Since 1997, the Flemish Region has recognised that ‘every customer is entitled to a basic uninterrupted supply of water for household purposes in order to be able to live decently according to prevailing living standards’. As a result, in Flanders everyone has the right to a minimal supply of 15 m³ of free water per person per year according to recommendations of the World Health Organisation. This ‘individual approach’, allotting water to individuals as such and not to households as units, regardless of the number of inhabitants per household, seeks to increase equality in the allocation of free water among families in the long term.

Moreover, the Flemish regional legislation for water also aims to improve water saving in domestic consumption. To this end, this region has adopted a progressive water-pricing mechanism. This means that the final tariff depends on consumption because the price of water varies according to the amount used. The water tariff is composed of three elements. Firstly, there is a basic fee covering fixed costs of connection, independently from the household consumption; secondly, there is a free minimal quantity of water supplied to every household (15 m³); and thirdly, there is a variable cost depending on the surplus consumption. The latter cost depends on different blocks of water consumption established by the distribution company in accord with regional authorities.

Organizations and corporate entities such as churches, other charities, municipal service agencies and ordinary for-profit enterprises are not human beings and do not have an equivalent human right to water. Therefore, they are not entitled to any degree of free minimal supply. We can legitimately discuss the degree to which their water supply might be subsidized or if no subsidy should be allowed. However, this aspect of billing policy is entirely irrelevant if we have not first established a human right to water as outlined above.

Comments are welcomed.

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Michigan Roads – a Political Failure

This week’s hot issue, which has completely baffled the Michigan State Legislature, is how to fix Michigan’s crappy roads. All the Democrats and all the Republicans understand that crappy roads are bad for business and bad for the citizens of Michigan. All understand it’s an urgent issue. None the less, the legislature adjourned after many hours of arguing how to address the issue, and a string of votes in which all suggested measures failed.

Approximately half of the damage to roads and bridges in Michigan is caused by salt – applied generously every winter by local road commissions and the state highway department. This means roads which otherwise would last for 20 years need to be replaced in 10. Bridges that should last for over 50 years are visibly deteriorating in 20, and are unsafe 30 years after they are built.

It follows that half the solution to deteriorating roads and bridges is eliminating road salt – sodium chloride, calcium chloride and any of the other compounds that are chemically classified as “salts.” The chloride ion in common salt is responsible for corrosion of steel in reinforced concrete, bridge structures and incidentally in the structural component of cars and trucks. It’s so serious an issue that, at the infamous Zilwaukee Bridge (on I-75 north of Saginaw), road salt is forbidden so it does not further weaken the spans.

If road salt cannot, for practical reasons, be immediately eliminated, its use can be immidiately minimized and safer, though more immediately expensive, substitutes used – especially around bridges and similar reinforced concrete and steel structures such as parking garages. The increased short-term expenses are more than compensated by the extended useful lifetime of expensive infrastructure. it should not matter that the increased and decreased expenses come from different departments of government, though the heads of departments competing for annual budget money might tell us it does matter.

Longer-term solutions for the other half of the problem involve a variety of approaches. Weight limits for trucks and taxes that increase for vehicle weights and miles travelled are certainly part of the longer-term solution. When walking and bicycling increases and use of automobiles decrease, it is because neighborhoods are rebuilt to encourage it. Rebuilding urban neighborhoods also runs counter to suburban/exurban sprawl and loooong daily commutes. When local production replaces global production, goods are shipped tens or hundreds of miles instead of thousands. For foods are grown in backyard and community gardens, there is no such thing as shipping.

Almost all of the policy changes mentioned above push our economy in the direction of using less energy, particularly less fossil fuel and nuclear energy. That’s why simply increasing taxes for rebuilding roads, no matter what the source of the taxes, is not anywhere near a complete solution.

Art Myatt