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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