How Flint Was Gentrified Through its Water Crisis

Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with Flint resident and activist Abel Delgado on how the water crisis transformed his neighborhood

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Story Transcript

EDDIE CONWAY: OK, Abel. Were you living here in Flint during the beginning of the water crisis and throughout the water crisis?

ABEL DELGADO: Yeah, I was, I was here.

EDDIE CONWAY: So tell me, when did you find out about it? How did it affect you? And what do you think about it now?

ABEL DELGADO: My perspective’s a little bit different, because once the switch to Flint River was made I was still in high school. And obviously it was having a younger mentality, and just stubbornness. Immediately when they switched to the Flint River everybody knew, like, oh, not to drink it, because the Flint River was nasty, it just had that stigma. So moving forward, nobody my age really drank it like that, because of that stigma, but obviously there were people that still were drinking it. However, slowly, more and more, I noticed more and more changes, whether it be the smell, whether it be skin reactions when I took a shower, et cetera.

EDDIE CONWAY: What kind of impact did it have on your life, your family’s life, et cetera?

ABEL DELGADO: Aside from health issues- and I mean, we’ll never really know the health issues, as well as mental issues, because you can’t even test that- the biggest thing that was going to have to be recovered from is trust. And that’s the biggest thing. You have no absolutely no trust in your government because they all lie to you. They’ll, when, especially when you say we don’t want to switch to the Flint River they’ll deliberately do so, in an authoritarian manner.

EDDIE CONWAY: Well, who decided that? Whose fault is this, as far as you can tell?

ABEL DELGADO: I mean, obviously everybody says it’s government at all levels. I mean, which is partially true, but obviously it goes right back down to the emergency manager system as a whole, and essentially Snyder’s a part of that. I mean, we tend to point blame at certain elected officials, but the reality is this is an entire system that has not been set up for actual representation within the community.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. One of the things I noticed when I was driving through is a massive amount of abandoned buildings, the devastation. And you mentioned earlier gentrification. Tell me a little bit about how that water crisis might have aided in it, and exactly what is going on with the gentrification.

ABEL DELGADO: I mean, obviously during the water crisis it originally pushes more people out. And even before that Flint was already suffering due to failed trade deals like NAFTA, and GM pulling out, and all these other economic imperialist policies, you know.

So aside from that, what the water crisis did, continued to force people out. And you have more abandoned properties, and with the economic development that you see happening, with people, with big corporations coming back in to invest in Flint because property values are so low, they’re using it as an opportunity to really gentrify neighborhoods. For example, Ellwood Stadium down there was only sold for a dollar during the emergency manager’s ‘era’ to Kettering University. Even though they did it, realistically the community could have bought that for a dollar and came together and have had it open to the community 24/7 rather than have it become a private entity.

EDDIE CONWAY: What about in this immediate neighborhood here? Besides the stadium, is it impacting the houses? Because I see a house here, a house there. So over there there’s a house- there seems to be a lot of houses missing.

ABEL DELGADO: Yeah, I mean, if the- I mean, you could easily just have the camera just face it, and you’ll see. Like, there used to be double the amount of houses on this street. When I first moved here, it would have been in sixth grade, which would have been about nine years ago, around eight, nine years ago. And already there’s like, there’s only six houses here compared to the dozen that used to be there. Just not even a month ago they tore two houses down just where I’m looking at right now. And it’s just continued- I mean honestly, within a few years there. But essentially their plan is to completely get rid of this neighborhood.

But even behind me, the open lot that there is, it used to be an entire neighborhood just with nothing but houses. But it’s completely devastated. It’s just completely a flat lawn now, with just grass.

EDDIE CONWAY: What are you doing for water?

ABEL DELGADO: Right now I have to rely on bottled water. I mean, simply- I mean, there’s really no- unfortunately there’s no way around it. Luckily my mom just remarried, and he’s a little bit more- he’s, quote-unquote, middle class, even though there’s absolutely no middle class. But so therefore we can slightly afford a little bit more, like putting a filter on our water, which will at least help minimize the effects of- like for showering, of course.

I obviously still don’t trust it and I still refuse to drink it. And obviously you are barely able to afford the water bills, unlike most people, so I’ve been blessed in that aspect. But unfortunately, most people are still suffering, especially with a 45 percent poverty rate, et cetera.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. So what I’m hearing you say is that people have to buy their water, but at the same time they’re paying for water through the city of Flint, also?

ABEL DELGADO: Yeah exactly. I mean, it’s- it goes right back to the system that just continues to abuse us in the process, because most people can’t afford the- one, they can’t afford to pay for water they can’t even drink. And then they can’t afford to get bottled water. And then you talk about transportation and all these other aspects that poverty holds us down in. So realistically, they’re continuing to oppress us. And if we don’t, if we refuse to participate in this system, they’ll take away our house, and they’ll continue their agenda to gentrify us.

EDDIE CONWAY: I understand Governor Snyder used the emergency management system to transfer the water from a good source to a source that ultimately was discovered to be harmful and deadly source, and did it in poor and black communities you think that was deliberate? Or is that just an economic reaction to people that’s trying to make money?

ABEL DELGADO: I mean, if we- if we look at the system as a whole, I mean, when you’re talking about economic imperialist policies, and symptoms like poverty and disaster capitalism, it affects minority communities the most. So obviously there is a lot of class issues related to it. But when you talk about class issues that are- class issues, pretty much what is-. Class issues affect minority communities most, to be just as simple as that. So- and obviously Snyder targeted minority communities with emergency management. So I mean, yes, it is class. But at the same time, you can’t ignore the fact there are race issues related to this, because they are more than prevalent.

EDDIE CONWAY: OK. Any final comments for our audience?

ABEL DELGADO: I guess moreso just what you see, what’s going on in the water crisis is just, is what’s happening throughout the entire nation right now. How they’re attempting to privatize every single aspect, whether it be water, whether it be education, and how they’re planning to take over our community and take away the community’s input, and take away our voice, and take away our power. And they’re using it through bureaucratic measures. And pretty much it’s just more economic imperialist policies spread the capitalism.

EDDIE CONWAY: You know, it sounds really huge and unsolvable. Is there a way in which we- we meaning people down on the ground, poor people, people of color, et cetera, is there a way in which we can do something about this?

ABEL DELGADO: I think there is. And I think there is a- I mean, me personally, because of my politics, I think there’s a lot of leftist theory that goes into it as far as taking the community back. Obviously we can’t continue to rely on this existing system that continues to enslave us, that’s for one thing. We have to use a way to actually take the community back and become autonomous, and not have to rely on all these, the system that is focused on individualism and profit. We need to be focused on community and building our own power.