Tuesday, July 26, 2022
Martha F. Davis, Hidden Burdens: Household Water Bills, “Hard-to Reach” Renters, and Systemic Racism, 52 Seton Hall Law Review 1461 (2022). Excerpted below (citations removed).
“It is not just far away locales where water access is wielded in this way. In the United States, Black and Brown people often bear the brunt of such policies and practices. For example, for decades, a predominantly African American neighborhood in Zanesville, Ohio, was denied a connection to the city’s water system—an abuse of power that jeopardized public health and demeaned the community until a 2002 civil rights complaint and a federal lawsuit forced a change. In Detroit, Michigan, beginning in 2014, tens of thousands of low income people, primarily Black, found their water shut off for nonpayment; many of those affected speculated that the city’s goal was not merely to collect outstanding funds, but to compel low income residents to leave their homes and make way for new, more lucrative (and whiter) development.
Sometimes the control of water—and the racial impacts of that control—are more subtle, reflected in administrative inaction, buried in complex bureaucratic structures, or even framed as positive environmental initiatives. The diffusion of responsibilities for water administration between different levels of government can further obscure discriminatory impacts that would be more visible in a unified system. Neutral-sounding terminology may also hide the racial realities.
This Article argues that the complexities of household water billing combined with the indifference of utilities and government authorities to the needs of “hard-to-reach” water consumers—primarily renters in multi-family dwellings—have left many low income, disproportionately minority tenants, excluded from programs designed to help with rising water and wastewater expenses.”