As It Happens

'I felt helpless': Flint residents sent foreclosure warnings for unpaid water bills

Many people in Flint Michigan still don't trust their tap water. But the city says it's safe to drink with a filter and is now threatening foreclosure if residents refuse to pay their water bills.
Flint resident Juliano Spivey, 15, waves an American flag on April 25, 2017, as he joins in protest on the three-year anniversary of the city's water crisis. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP)

Read Story Transcript

It's been more than two years since Melissa Mays last consumed the tap water in Flint, Mich., but that hasn't stopped the city from charging her for it.

Mays and thousands of other residents have received notices warning them their houses could be foreclosed on if they don't pay their outstanding water bills. 

Flint resident Melissa Mays stands with her three boys while speaking to the media after attending a House oversight and government reform committee hearing on the Flint, Mich., water crisis. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Many Flint residents say there are still high levels of lead and other contaminants coming out of their taps.

Mays spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off about why she feels helpless and still doesn't trust the city's claim that the water is safe to drink. Here is part of their conversation.

Carol Off: How did you react when you received this water bill from the City of Flint?

Melissa Mays: When I opened it and saw that it was a tax lien, I got scared. I felt helpless for one of the first times, I believe, since this whole crisis began. Shut offs, that's one thing — but losing our home? We can't do that.

CO: How many people are in this same situation?

MM: Eight thousand. We have 100,000 people in Flint, half of which are renters. So this is a large bulk of the property owners in Flint. 

Flint residents chant in unison with nearly 100 others protesters, demanding answers and solutions to the city's water crisis woes on April 25, 2017, the three-anniversary of the initial water switch. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP)

CO: The City of Flint says that lead levels have fallen to safe levels in recent months, especially when you use filters. They say they're only charging residents since it was deemed safe to drink. So what evidence do you have that your water is still contaminated?

MM: We never stopped receiving bills. We received bills this entire time and the water is still not safe. It's below the federal action level. It's below 15 parts per billion, but that's only for the homes that they've tested and during the cold. Everybody knows that when you test in the winter time, all the contaminates are lower.

And again, we're relying on the State of Michigan, the ones who poisoned us and lied about it, and their testing. And that's only for lead.

They're refusing to test for bacteria. We've had to go to outside sources to actually be able to test for all the contaminates in the water. We have a lot of different bacterial outbreaks that they're not even looking at. Until our water tests completely zero for all these different dangerous contaminates it's in no way, shape or form safe.

Again, we still cannot drink the water without a filter. You turn around and look at that and the Wayne State Universty study proved that the filters, the tap filters, actually grow bacteria. So there are people that almost died from dysentery over the summer because of the bacterial outbreak. 
Flint resident Melissa Mays, standing at right, alongside more than 100 other people, listens to officials attempt to answer residents' questions about the water crisis at a town hall meeting. (Jake May/The Flint Journal-MLive.com/AP)

CO: How is this affecting you emotionally?

MM: This is the first time I felt helpless because every time we've gotten a letter, I'm a fixer. I'm like, you know what? We'll fix it. We'll find a way to fight it. We'll stand up. That's what we do here. Flint is made up of fighters and that's why we've gotten as far as we have.

However, this time was the first time I was told there are no options. There's nothing else that can be done — you have to do this or else. It's the first time I felt helpless and like I'm failing my children. I can't lose our home so we're going to have to do what we have to do and so are the other 8,000 residents because they are only giving us a couple of weeks.

I don't want my city to go under. I don't want it to go bankrupt. But on the other hand, it shouldn't fall on the backs of the victims — the people who are suffering, who are depressed, who are physically harmed by this — to pay for those mistakes.

I mean, life isn't fair but why are you still punishing the victims for something we had no say in? It's just incredulous. You just sit here and shake your head going: "How do I explain this to my kids?" How do you instill hope that things are going to get better one day, when every single day seems to be getting worse?

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story listen to our full interview with Melissa Mays.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.