By Kathy Angerer
Hamtramck is a very unique community. The 2020 Census revealed that our population is among the fastest-growing in Michigan. We are the most diverse city in Michigan, with a wide range of cultures from all around the world represented among our people. 41.4 percent of our population was born outside the United States; 69.4 percent of residents speak a language other than English at home. We are unfortunately also a community where many residents struggle with poverty. According to 2019 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 46.5 percent of Hamtramckans are considered to be in poverty. The median household income is $27,166; statewide, the median is $57,144.
Lead water lines have been in the news repeatedly recently in a number of Michigan cities — especially older communities like Hamtramck, which were developed during the industrial booms of the early 20th century. Hamtramck was incorporated in 1922, the majority of our housing stock was constructed in the 1910s and 1920s. Over 90 percent of our homes were built before 1980. Lead water service lines were the norm for much of this period, which can present a very serious health concern today.
Lead presents its most serious risks to children and Hamtramck is also a city of families. 31.9 percent of the Hamtramck population is under the age of 18; 8.8 percent are under the age of 5—an age group particularly vulnerable to the harmful impacts of lead on health and development. All families, regardless of their background and the language they speak, are expressing increased concern for the health and safety of their children.
The time is now for swift action by our elected officials. With additional funds available at all levels of government, it is time to distribute those funds to older cities, so that all of our Michigan families, including those like Hamtramckans who live in poverty, can safely consume drinking water in their homes.
Here in Hamtramck, annual routine testing revealed for a second time in recent years elevated lead levels in the water in multiple houses with antiquated lead service lines. The city of Hamtramck responded quickly and has held water and water filter distribution of over 3,000 filters. Additional filters are available every Tuesday and Thursday for pick up at City Hall. We have been replacing the antiquated service lines for the last few years, yet there is so much more we can do together.
Filters can make tap water safe for families to drink and use, but they do not solve the underlying problem. Hamtramck residents are rightly alarmed. They have heard about the Flint water crisis and they see Benton Harbor in the news. They are afraid their tap water is unsafe for themselves and their families, that Hamtramck — their home — may be the “next Benton Harbor.” They are distressed, too, knowing that Hamtramck does not have the tens of millions of dollars in resources to fix the problem and expedite the replacement of lead service lines on our own.
It is for this reason that I am calling on county, state and federal partners for immediate help with funding assistance. It can cost up to $10,500 per line to replace the lead lines that remain in Hamtramck and protect our residents. While Hamtramck has received some funding assistance, the remaining cost of over $50 million dollars will have to be paid from our rapidly depleting water and sewer fund.
The time is now for swift action by our elected officials. With additional funds available at all levels of government, it is time to distribute those funds to older cities, so that all of our Michigan families, including those like Hamtramckans who live in poverty, can safely consume drinking water in their homes. It’s time to quit talking about the problem and start doing the right thing to solve the issue once and for all.
— Kathy Angerer is the Hamtramck city manager and a former state representative and former majority floor leader, representing the 55th District.