Friday, September 11, 2009

Stop Utility Shutoffs: Tenants at the Highland Towers Demand Power

STOP UTILITY SHUTOFFS: Tenants demand power

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Published Sep 9, 2009 5:25 PM
Note: Tenants at the Highland Towers have been granted a hearing in Wayne County Circuit Court on September 11 at 9:00 a.m. in the chambers of Judge MacDonald located at 1107 in the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center on Woodward avenue and Jefferson, downtown. Tenants are demanding the restoration of their electrical services by DTE as well as compensation from the absentee landlord.

Tenants of the Highland Towers apartment building, as well as adjoining businesses, have been living without electricity and water since Aug. 31. That’s when DTE Energy cut off services to the hundreds of people living in this building in Highland Park, a separate municipality surrounded by Detroit.

The apartment complex has been neglected for years by its owners, who reportedly are having financial difficulties and have not paid more than $100,000 in utility bills. This is no fault of the tenants. They have paid their rents, which included money for electric and gas services.

What happened to Highland Towers represents a growing problem in the metro Detroit area. As slum landlords refuse to pay bills, the tenants, unaware of the difficulties, face power cuts and evictions without notice.

However, DTE Energy has refused to restore services to the tenants of Highland Towers.

A representative of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs visited the building on Sept. 1 and found the residents shocked and overwhelmed. One elderly man walked out into the street and laid down in front of oncoming traffic. Other residents brought him back before a bus drove through the lane.

Latonya Lloyd, 38, who has lived in the Highland Towers for two years, suffers from asthma and needs electricity for the use of breathing equipment. Her husband has sent their 8-year-old daughter to her grandmother’s home pending the restoration of their energy services. Food stored in a refrigerator has spoiled because of lack of power.

Jene Weiss, 88, has lived in her apartment for 30 years. She is visually impaired in one eye and walks with a cane. Weiss says all her family members are deceased so she has “nowhere to go” in such a crisis.

Other people in the apartment complex suffer from kidney problems, diabetes, hypertension and other serious diseases. Their lives are literally being jeopardized by continuing to reside there under these distressing circumstances. At least one dialysis patient resides in the building.

A delegation of tenants from Highland Towers, along with members of the Moratorium NOW! Coalition, went to DTE Energy headquarters for the first time on Sept. 3 to demand a meeting with the corporate executives in charge. The delegation was told someone would meet with them. After a wait of more than an hour, a security officer informed them and their supporters that there was no one to talk with them.

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition then issued a call for activists, advocates for working people and the poor, as well as all people of goodwill, to demonstrate outside DTE the following day at noon. The demonstration demanded that DTE take responsibility for this crisis and turn the power back on for the residents at Highland Towers to avoid further pain and suffering.

A DTE top executive then requested a meeting with Moratorium NOW! at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 4. Moratorium organizers brought residents, including Latonya Lloyd and Jene Weiss, to the meeting.

Despite the dire situation facing the residents of Highland Towers, the utility company refused to turn the service back on. The corporation’s representatives told the tenants of the apartment building and organizers that they were working with human services agencies to get help for the people, many of whom have serious medical conditions.

Every day that DTE Energy refuses to turn the electricity back on, a worse humanitarian situation is created at Highland Towers. Women with small children, people with disabilities and tenants of all ages with medical problems who require electricity and gas services live in the building.

Stop utility shutoffs!

The Moratorium NOW! Coalition is calling for an immediate halt to utility shutoffs in the metropolitan Detroit area and throughout Michigan. With rising unemployment and poverty rates as well as budget deficits plaguing the cities, counties and the state, it is urgent that Gov. Jennifer Granholm declare an economic state of emergency to avoid further suffering among working people and the poor.

Such a declaration would allow the state government to appeal directly to Washington for federal funds to provide for the needs of the people. The governor would have the authority to impose an immediate moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs, pending the outcome of the present crisis.

However, the city, county and state governments have failed to take immediate action to protect the lives and health of the millions of people in this region who need help. There must be a mass struggle by the people to fight against the cutbacks and the elimination of essential services.

Members of Moratorium NOW! publicly raised the demand for a company-imposed halt to shutoffs in July after four people died in northwest Detroit.

Unemployment in the city of Detroit is officially almost 30 percent. Hundreds of thousands in the area are under threat of eviction and having their utilities and water shut off. This represents a state of emergency for the millions of residents of the state and should be acted upon immediately. Failure to take corrective action is endangering the health and welfare of people throughout Michigan.

Interim Mayor Dave Bing has demonstrated his total disdain for the working people of Detroit by proposing massive layoffs and service cuts, including a large-scale reduction in bus service. The city layoffs and cuts in transportation will only create more foreclosures, evictions, utility shutoffs and job losses. Make no mistake about it, Bing is not working for the people of Detroit but for the banks and corporations, whose policies have created the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Only the people organized into a mass movement can mobilize the energy and resources to fight the banks, corporations and their paid agents in government. The thousands who came out to public hearings the week of Aug. 24 to oppose bus service cuts represent the true face of the people of this city. Bing represents the thieves of Wall Street who only wish to push the people back and exploit them even further.

The coalition is calling on the people to come out to an organizing meeting Sept. 12 to demand that Gov. Granholm declare an economic state of emergency in Michigan and consequently impose moratoriums on foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs. The meeting will be held at the Central United Methodist Church, located on Woodward and Adams in downtown Detroit, beginning at 11:00 a.m.
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