Despite the millions owed by commercial properties in overdue water payments, the city of Baltimore has strictly targeted its residents and in the past 6 weeks has shut off the water supply to more than 1,600 households, reporting reveals.
According to an investigation by the Baltimore Sun, since the Department of Public Works began shutting off the water supplies in April, to customers with outstanding bills, enforcement has been "starkly uneven."
"While large commercial properties owe the biggest amounts, not one has been shut off," the Sun reported on Friday. "All of the service cuts so far have been to homes."
City records show that of the $40 million owed to the city, commercial accounts including businesses, government offices and nonprofits comprise roughly $15 million in unpaid water bills.
Meanwhile, thousands of residents in "blue collar communities" in East and Southwest Baltimore, and Dundalk, Gwynn Oak, and Parkville, among others in Baltimore County, have had their water supplies cut.
The city has sent out roughly 25,000 notices to residents and businesses warning that shutoffs will occur unless overdue accounts are paid or a payment plan is negotiated within ten days.
However, community advocates say that in a city with skyrocketing unemployment and poverty, the rising cost of water and sewage is unaffordable to a large sector of the population. Further, in Detroit, where the local government has cut off water to over 17,000 residential households, the policy has been widely criticized by the United Nations as well as other watchdog groups as a violation of the human right to water.
A petition being circulated by the Working Families Party is calling on Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to declare a moratorium on the shutoffs. It states: "Shutoffs will create a public health disaster and destabilize working families as they face unsanitary conditions or are forced from their homes. Water shutoffs put our whole community at risk."