Baltimore city fixes racial water injustice according to income

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If you are black and living in Baltimore you might not be able to afford your water. A new bill will alleviate income differences. A case study on how to fight privatization and allow access to all. 

Some people feel they can’t afford to turn on the tap in some cities while others waste water away. A new bill in Baltimore, Maryland (US) aims to settle water injustice, making sure that a water bill will be adjusted to a family’s means.

There is something to learn here as countries like Jordan still ship expensive water by truck; and in Israel where the cost of water climbs higher after every new desalination plant goes online, whether or not it is needed. Privatization of water we learn should be an injustice that a city, state or country fights against. Baltimore is a good case study.

“Baltimore is shattering antiquated water billing inequities, setting a new benchmark for billing fairness and government accountability, and rising up as a water justice champion in this country,” said Rianna Eckel, Senior Organizer of the new water bill just passed for Food & Water Action, an NGO.

In November 2019, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously in favor of the bill, and Mayor Jack Young signed the bill making it an official law. 

The United Nations has declared that water bills should not exceed 3 percent of a household income.

In Baltimore Black households most pay disproportionately high bills. With the new Water Accountability & Equity Act, Baltimore has made steps to eradicate racial water injustice and become the second city after Philadelphia to set up a percentage-of-income water affordability program. 

“The Water Accountability & Equity Act will transform Baltimore’s broken water billing system to work for people,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore Director, Jews United For Justice. “

We have been a part of bringing this critical, desperately needed legislation from introduction to enactment and we will continue to diligently engage to ensure swift and successful implementation of the law.” 

Baltimore’s water justice leadership began with a historic win against privatization. In 2018, voters protected public ownership over the water system by passing a charter amendment to declare Baltimore’s water system a permanent, inalienable asset of the city.

After that, the City proved the value of keeping the water system public, by passing the Water Taxpayer Protect Act to protect homeowners, renters, and places of worship from losing their properties over unpaid water bills. 

Water bills will be based on percentage-of-income, ensuring all residents, including those of low-income and black households, can afford the price of their water. There will be a customer advocate’s office with a mission of promoting fairness to customers, and a structure for appealing high bills and other problems commonly faced by customers.

Similar affordability efforts are pending in Detroit and Chicago. Across the country, the water affordability crisis is growing. Baltimore is providing a model for a national water justice movement.

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