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Transportation & Infrastructure

Detroit, other Michigan communities get HUD grants for flood recovery

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Michigan Radio

Detroit is getting grant funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help with flood recovery efforts. That’s after a major rainstorm last June flooded many basements, homes, and cars in parts of southeast Michigan.

Detroit will get the bulk of the money in the form of Community Development Block Grants, $57 million. Dearborn will receive another $17 million.

Detroit community groups hailed the news of the grants, noting that many residents still need help with basic recovery, such as replacing furnaces and remediating mold and mildew in basements. But they’re also pushing for longer-term infrastructure solutions to prevent future flooding.

Josh Elling is the CEO of Jefferson East Inc., an organization that works with residents in Jefferson-Chalmers, the far east side Detroit neighborhood hardest-hit by the flooding and sewer back-ups. He said that area faces a “triple threat” of shoreline flooding, basement back-ups, and surface flooding during heavy rains. He said future mitigation efforts need to address flooding prevention at the “household scale, neighborhood scale, and regional solutions.”

“All in all, this is a very large pot of money, and the city is going to really have to put together a good action plan to deploy this to help residents and business owners recover,” Elling said.

Elling said the city will face some tricky challenges in deploying the funds though. One is that the federal government designated part of Jefferson-Chalmers as a floodplain last year, and “there are restrictions on the deployment of CDBG funds for home repair [and] economic development into a floodplain without getting a waiver from HUD.”

Elling said localized solutions like Detroit’s basement protection program are a good start. But he said another challenge will be whether the city can use to money to jumpstart broader water and sewer infrastructure changes to prevent future flooding in the face of climate change-induced extreme weather.

Elling said those kind of solutions will also require a “broader kind of regional conversation. Because neighborhoods like Jefferson-Chalmers, the east side of Dearborn, these communities are bearing the brunt of all of this flow down into the watershed and sewer shared systems, overwhelming basements.”

Ricky Ackerman is Climate Equity Director for the East Side Community Network, another community organization serving Jefferson-Chalmers. He said they’ve been helping some residents navigate the extensive process of filing claims with FEMA and local agencies like the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, as well as with household-based mitigation strategies like elevating basement appliances.

“But then the other side of it is that we need we need wide- scale infrastructure investment,” said Ackerman, noting that just bulking up traditional heavy “gray infrastructure” isn’t going to cut it. He said there needs to be more investment in “green infrastructure,” such as rain gardens, so that “we're not adding to the sort of impervious surface and these issues going forward when, we know we're going to have more water to deal with in the future.”

As for the overall governmental response to residents’ immediate needs so far, Ackerman said that “there was some really positive things the city did, but it didn't quite go far enough. We still need more of that recovery support.”

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