The city of Flint, Michigan began threatening residents who weren’t paying their water bills with shut-off notices in February. The state was previously subsidizing the cost of the city’s water but decided to end that practice after it found that the water was now meeting federal water quality standards. Without that money, the city needed to make up the loss. That includes charging residents for water they still can not safely drink without a filter.
In March, the city shut off water for an apartment complex after the landlord failed to pay an outstanding bill. Now, NBC is reporting that Flint sent more than 8,000 residents threats of tax liens, which puts residents’ homes at-risk of foreclosure if they don’t pay. These are families who haven’t paid their water bill for at least six months, NBC reports.
“I got scared, for probably the first time since this all started,” said Melissa Mays, a mother and water activist, to NBC. “This actually scared me.”
She received a notice in the mail last week, on April 28, ordering her to pay $900 by May 19—or she’d risk having a tax lien placed on her property.
The city needs this income, said city treasurer Al Mooney to NBC. “We have to have revenue coming in, so we can’t give people … water at the tap and not get revenue coming in to pay those bills,” he said.
Last month, these shut-off notices brought in nearly $3 million for the city. If all the 8,000+ residents pay their water bills, the city would receive nearly $6 million. Flint has been struggling financially, a reality that’s made dealing with the lead contamination even more difficult.
The federal government awarded $100 million to Flint in March to aid in replacing its pipe system, and the state settled in a lawsuit in March to give the city another $97 million for pipe replacement, but all this has come three years after the crisis began. It will take until at least 2019 to complete the project.