In recent years, significant strides have been made in recognizing the human right to water, as well as increased attention to the growing problem of water unaffordability. However, few studies have made an explicit link between race and the affordability of water or have interrogated the connection between the failure to pay a water bill and the loss of Black homeownership. This report does both. It begins with a historical overview of the construction of U.S. urban water systems and the development of water policy from the late 18th century to the present, including a discussion of Black access (or lack thereof) to water systems and services over time.
It further explains the current water affordability crisis impacting Black communities and identify failing infrastructure as the biggest contributing factor to rising costs. To demonstrate the disproportionate impact of rising water bills on Black communities, this report includes a review of the affordability crises in Baltimore and Cleveland. We demonstrate how water costs are allocated in each area, document the rise in water costs to residents in recent years, and analyze each jurisdiction’s use of water liens for unpaid bills. Finally, it provides a framework for potential litigation and policy solutions to challenging water lien sales and service disconnections that have a disproportionate impact on Black communities. The report has been published by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and its Thurgood Marshall Institute with a hope to address racial equities through equal and fundamental access of water and sanitation.