The Detroit water crisis has dominated the headlines for the last few months, sparking protests , direct action and other signs of resistance to austerity imposed under Emergency Manager Rule, a new form of dictatorial government that sacrifices democratic self-rule in the name of economic efficiency. But as Detroit dominates the headlines, a recent local investigative report found that eight families in Flint had gone without water for over a year and a half. Today, Flint ordered lower income apartment residents to vacate their property after it shut off water. In both cases, the residents paid their bills, but absentee corporate landlords and property managers did not hold up their end of the bargain.
All residents at Glen Acre woke up Tuesday, Aug. 5, to find condemnation notices on their doors, ordering them to vacate the property because it is unfit for human occupancy, with open and vacant buildings, broken windows and doors, and no running water.Who mourns for the forgotten in Flint? Why is the city so hell bent on punishing the poor and rewarding corporate malfeasance?
But tenants in two of the buildings at Glen Acre will be allowed to stay because water remains on, Flint spokesman Jason Lorenz said, while residents in two other buildings in which there is no water must leave.
Although city property records show Glen Acre is owned by USALAND LLC, the complex actually has two separate addresses and two separate water accounts.
Lorenz said water was shut off to 1718 W. Pierson Road in November and found in June to have been turned back on by someone other than the city.
Apartment residents, some of whom have been here for years, said they don't know what they will do next.
"The chief values of democracy are freedom and equality. The willingness to subsume freedom to claims of efficiency is one sign of an undemocratic culture. Toleration of the denial of fresh water to others is another. After all, it is hard to imagine denying fresh water to those one regards as political equals."New York Times, "Detroit's Drought of Democracy," Jason Stanley, Professor of Philosophy at Yale University, July 29, 2014
The Detroit water crisis has dominated the headlines for the last few months, sparking protests , direct action and other signs of resistance to austerity imposed under Emergency Manager Rule, a new form of dictatorial government that sacrifices democratic self-rule in the name of economic efficiency. But as Detroit dominates the headlines, a recent local investigative report found that eight families in Flint had gone without water for over a year and a half. The Ambassador East Mobile Home Park sits off Dort Highway, underneath electricity pylons and, somewhat ironically, less than a half mile from the Flint water plant.
The park’s remaining residents survive by using a number of alternative water sources, some more creative than others. A few residents have resorted to pumping water from a nearby cemetery adjacent to the neighborhood. The water pump, which is located next to a dumpster, requires physical pumping for about four hours in order to capture a weekly supply of water. Others purchase drinking water and use melted snow and rain water, collected in tubs and bins, for non-drinking uses. Although one resident claimed that the city tested the cemetery water and found it safe for drinking uses, at least one park resident was told that he had a bacterial infection from water contamination.
Like many mobile home parks, residents say that the place was not in perfect shape before the water crisis, but it crumbled when the water was shut off. Families that could afford to move have done so, but the Ambassador East's remaining residents have nowhere else to go. And many don't want to leave; one resident has lived in the park for about thirty years. They are not squatters, and the question is not ability or willingness to pay.
Not that payment isn't a sore spot in Flint; the city's water rates are the highest in the country. An analysis by the Flint Journal showed Flint charges $35 more per month in water and sewer rates than the next-highest municipality in the county, and $90 more than the lowest. The new, controversial Karegnondi Pipeline is being financed by a deal brokered by the law firm Miller Canfield, which negotiated the preliminary offer for Genesee County and Flint while representing Detroit in negotiations to privatize Detroit water operations , even as Detroit opposed the pipeline , at least in public.
The daughter of JP Morgan Stanley CEO Jamie Dimon described Flint as "apocalyptic" in a controversial article published late last year. The article falsely used pictures from the Israeli city of Ramla in support of the author’s argument that the city was a cauldron of violence and decay. But the images of Ambassador East, while illustrating abandonment and ruin, are actually indictments against decisions made in Manhattan; the violence visited upon this Flint community in the form of water shutoffs is tied directly to the anti-democratic Emergency Manager austerity regime.
While Detroit has dominated the headlines, Flint’s water wars have been quietly waged by local activists for years. A third protest of water rates, organized by a member of the city council, Wantwaz Davis, is planned for Friday, August 8, in front of City Hall. Davis’ constituents have complained about water shutoffs, but those shutoffs were based on an inability to pay. The Ambassador East residents were paying the lot owner until both the owner and, for a time, a management corporation that had a land contract with the deed holder.
The owner, according to available records, is Malco Real Estate, Incorporated, which also has holdings in Florida and New York. The property records show that a land contract was executed in 2012, with an entity named “Ambassador Estates Mobile Home Park LLC,” which as of February 2014 was no longer in good standing. According to the corporate documents filed with the State of Michigan, the LLC’s principal agent was Paul Beriault, and the company was managed by “Dignitas Management LLC,” a limited liability corporation based in the State of Nevada. But according to documents from the State of Nevada , Dignitas, which was managed by Paul and Flavia Beriault, had its status revoked and the corporate location seems to be the offices of “Corporate Direct ,” which simply offers services to individuals who want to form corporate entities. Malco Real Estate does not appear to do regular business in Michigan, but it is presumably affiliated with Malco Management Corporation , which does business in New York and Florida, consistent with the statements of the residents that the owner resided in New York and had holdings in Florida as well.
According to their own testimony, the residents were paying lot fees to the new management, which began picking at the park’s infrastructure and taking it to neighboring parks that they managed. They stopped paying only when the water was shut off, but attempted to pay the city directly to restore services. The residents say the money was given to the city water department but services were not restored, even though they offered to pay for water directly, bypassing the absentee lot owners.
Similarly, the residents of the apartment complex condemned by Flint's emergency manager paid rent, including a portion to cover utilities. And their corporate, absentee landlords get off, while residents are ordered to vacate with one day notice. And this is by design: The EM torpedoed a slumlord enforcement ordinance when he first took office, which would have prevented this catastrophe.
While Flint’s master plan did not adopt a shrinking cities initiative, this was an area identified for poor housing and substandard infrastructure. According to the residents, the City refuses to turn water services back on because it has prioritized other upgrades. In a functioning democracy, their elected representatives might have been able to restore water to these residents, many of whom are retired, disabled and elderly. But in the new Emergency Manager regime, they remain forgotten.
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