Flint City Council Blocks Tax Liens for Unpaid Water Bills

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When more than 8,000 residents of Flint, MI were threatened with foreclosure on their homes if they did not pay their past due bills for contaminated water, there was an enormous public outcry over the injustice. On Wednesday, the City Council voted to stop it from happening any further.

Council President Kerry Nelson received a multitude of calls to his office demanding they stop threatening to take people’s homes over water bills, and the Council passed a resolution that puts a yearlong moratorium on placing tax liens on properties with unpaid water bills, reported The Root.

“Too numerous to tell you how many, the calls have been coming in,” Nelson said. “Enough is enough. I’ve made up my mind tonight to do what I need to do for the people who elected me.”

Council members said that city residents already struggle to afford Flint’s high water rates, and some residents just flat-out refused to pay for water that could not be used without a filter.

The resolution states that no water account with a delinquent balance dating back to April 2014 will have liens placed on the corresponding property. Councilman Eric Mays abstained from voting on the resolution; the remaining eight Council members all voted in favor.

Nelson says the city attorney and chief financial officer called his office urging him not to pass a moratorium on placing liens on properties because the city needs the revenue, but Nelson decided it was time to give the people a small break.

“It’s time out for that,” Nelson said. “The people of this city are suffering. They’re troubled, they’re at their wits’ end. … We’ve got to do what we can do. I’ve done what I can do.”

Mays abstained from voting because he did not review the resolution, and he had unanswered legal questions about it.

“The ordinance can’t go back retroactively and pull liens off houses that have already been lost. That was the main reason,” Mays said.

Prior to the Council meeting, the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund  urged the City Council “to suspend local efforts to impose property liens on thousands of Flint homeowners for failing to pay delinquent bills for contaminated municipal water—which has been unsafe to drink for more than three years,” Detroit Metro Times reported.

Kary Moss, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan described the water bills as exorbitant and unjust, and told the Council, “The city has the power to put a moratorium on home foreclosures which is the only equitable solution resulting from this tragedy. The suffering of Flint residents should not be compounded by the loss of their homes.”

Moss added: “No one should be expected to pay for water that is not safe, and that has caused so much physical, psychological and financial damage. In a city where residents have been crying out for justice, even more injustice is being proposed.”

Michigan Radio reports that Mayor Weaver was also sent a copy of the letter from the ACLU and NAACP LDF, and she responded in a Tuesday statement saying her hands were tied by a city ordinance.

“The city of Flint is legally obligated to comply with some city and state statutes that are not suitable or appropriate when you consider the extenuating circumstances we are still facing,” Weaver said.

This is a small victory for the people of Flint, but a needed victory. This decisions literally saved thousands of homes from being taken from Flint residents.

(Article By Jeremiah Jones)

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