Flint mayor says water is a human right in first state of the city address

Neeley’s 2020 State of the City speech is available online


FLINT, Michigan -- Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley called water a human right during his 2020 State of the City address on December 8, and said that the city is currently studying ways to provide lower rates to residents.


Flint, and several cities around the country, have suspended shutting off water for residents for lack of payment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Neeley noted that the city had not been doing water shutoffs prior to the pandemic either during his administration.


“Our challenge has been trying to find ways to provide water that is affordable to residents,” Neeley said. “We will continue to push forward to make sure that every resident can afford water that they trust.”


The declaration of water as a human right in Flint is symbolic, not a legal protection, though cities do have the ability to make the declarations legal to protect residents from shutoffs.


Rianna Eckel, a senior organizer with Food & Water Watch, a national watchdog organization that advocates for food, water, and climate safety and security issues, noted that several cities around the country don’t do shutoffs, including New York City and Albany, New York; Baltimore, Maryland; and several cities in Wisconsin. City of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan announced earlier today that Detroit will continue its moratorium on water shutoffs until 2022, and he hopes to make the moratorium permanent.


We hope that Detroit is affirming water as a human right and codifying a ban on water shutoffs, not just hoping that a LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) for water will prevent shutoffs,” Eckel said. “In order to be fully protective, it must be a law.”


The United Nations and World Health Organization, Amnesty International, and many other organizations around the world all consider access to drinking water a human right, but nothing in federal United States law makes a similar pronouncement. The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2010 that affirmed a human right to clean drinking water, with 122 nations voting in favor. The United States was one of 44 nations that abstained from the vote, so there is no federal guideline or mandate for local municipalities to follow.


In his address, Neeley also touted both completed and ongoing progress on the city’s water system and pipe replacement. Some of those same improvements were discussed in a joint press conference by the city and the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week. Neeley also noted that the city has created a water payment assistance fund to provide up to $225 in assistance for low- and moderate-income families with water bills. He also said the city is conducting a water rate study to make water more affordable to residents.


In his address, the first he’s delivered as mayor after being elected in 2019, Neeley also touted the city’s COVID-19 response, formation of a community task force that plays an advisory role to the City of Flint Police Department, and the city’s efforts to combat blight, noting that the city’s Fight Blight team has picked up more than 2 million pounds of garbage in cleanups throughout the city.


“I caution those who want to treat our community like a garbage can: we have cameras,” Neeley said.


Residents can report blight or request things like dumpsters, trash bags, and other support for cleanups by calling (810) 237-2090 or emailing [email protected]. Other information is available online.


During his speech, Neeley also said repairs to the city’s roads and new speed control measures are priorities for 2021. He also noted that, despite the immense challenges in Flint and beyond in 2020, he believes that working together can face those problems


“We’ve seen difficult times in our nation and challenging times in our state,” Neeley said. “If there’s one positive thing we can take away from the year 2020, it’s that together we can make a change. We can move forward, come together, march, demand justice. Racism and injustice remains a cancer in our country. This isn’t just a theoretical issue. It’s something many of us in our community live and breathe every single day.”

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.