Photo by Ángelo González, via Wikimedia Commons

Tired of seeing your water bill rise dramatically? Concerned about the city’s practice of shutting off water service, or using tax sales to generate revenue at the expense of poor home owners? You’ll be in good company tonight.

Red Emma’s Café and Bookstore in Station North is hosting a panel discussion this evening on water affordability in Baltimore City. The discussion will focus on ways to reform how the city administers water, such as using income-based water rates instead of flat ones, or forgoing steps that drastically reduce poor residents’ quality of life.

One issue affecting everyone is the water rate, which has more than tripled since 2000, according to nonprofit Maryland Food and Water Watch, and just entered the second year of a three-year, 30 percent rate hike designed to subsidize overhauls of the city’s sewer system and water mains.

When the city rolled out its new monthly water billing plan, it also eliminated the minimum usage fee, which arguably kept vacant property owners more accountable for their dwellings (since they’d still have to pay the bills). As a result, the new system incidentally increased the tax burden on city residents who actually occupy and take care of their homes, and made it harder for them to cut down on their bills by conserving water.

There’s also the divisive issue of tax lien sales, through which the city can earn back missed revenue from unpaid water bills by selling the homes of oftentimes destitute residents who couldn’t pay up. A November report from the Abell Foundation asserted such sales have a disproportionately negative effect on Baltimore’s poorest citizens.

Even if they don’t see their homes go off to auction, some impoverished Baltimoreans must suffer during the warmest months of the year, when the city can shut off their water from April through October. The Abell Foundation’s report also noted the dehumanizing conditions that such shutoffs create for those who couldn’t afford the climbing rates in the first place.

Panelists at tonight’s event will include Del. Mary Washington of the 43rd District, Real News Network producer Eddie Conway, University of Baltimore Clinical Teaching Fellow Komal Vaidya, Baltimore Sun city hall beat reporter Yvonne Wenger and Public Justice Center attorney Zafar Shah.

Food and Water Watch Maryland organized the event with the nonprofit Jews United for Justice. A spokeswoman for Food and Water Watch said they’re expecting 50 to 100 people to attend.

The talk starts at 7:30 p.m. Click here to RSVP or for more details.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...