Melissa Mays and her family have been through a lot. They’ve been living in their four bedroom house with a big backyard in Flint, Michigan since 2009; they were there in early 2014, when the city’s water source changed and officials failed to use the right chemicals to protect the water from lead and other contaminants.
Since late 2015, the city’s residents have had to rely on either filters or bottled water to drink or cook to avoid lead poisoning. Three years in, they still can’t drink the water that comes out of their taps.
For Mays’ family, that has meant grappling with a number of serious health problems — including autoimmune disorders, kidney stones, and seizures — as well as financial costs such as buying three $500 hot water heaters when each one broke thanks to the chemicals and sediment in their pipes.
Now, it also means she might lose the house that her family loves so dearly.
In the wake of the lead crisis, Mays and many other city residents refused to pay their water bills — which, at the time of the lead crisis, were the highest in the country — given that the water they were paying for was poisoned. The state had been subsidizing some people’s bills, but in March that financial support disappeared.
Then, the city started sending out shutoff notices, warning residents who weren’t paying their bills they would have their water cut off. Mays was one of the people who got such a letter last month, but she wasn’t deterred.
“I was like, ‘You know what, we’ll live off of bottled water, we’ll make this work,’” she said. She and her family were considering getting a cistern or rain barrel for their yard to get through. “Because nobody should pay for poison.”
On Friday, everything changed. She received a different letter from the city informing her that the state may soon put a tax lien on her house. If she doesn’t pay $819 of her water bill by May 19th, Michigan will begin the process of foreclosing on her.
This is effectively Republican governance in a nutshell, as we are seeing on a national scale with health care.