Alecia Green
Alecia Green of Detroit in her water logged basement on Thursday, July 1, 2021. Green has been spending time going through items seeing what can be saved and what has to be thrown away. Green's son and mother passed away and many items and memories of them she wanted to keep are damaged by all the flooding in her basement. (Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

Homeowners in some Detroit neighborhoods can apply for a new city program to help protect their basements from future flooding. 

City officials announced the Basement Backup Protection Program on Monday. It’s an up to $15 million plan, with a pilot phase funded by $2.4 million in federal COVID-19 pandemic relief dollars. 

Last summer’s severe rainfall — deemed a major disaster by President Joe Biden — left cars stranded on flooded freeways and damaged homes and businesses. The event led to the creation of the program to install backwater valves and sump pumps, and protect residential homeowners in 11 Detroit neighborhoods who have historically faced basement backups during large downpours. 

Late last June when nearly 6 inches of rain fell, more than 32,000 basements saw backed-up rainwater or combined sewage. 

“We had about a dozen neighborhoods in this city that are low-lying areas, vulnerable to flooding in times of torrential rains,” Mayor Mike Duggan said Monday during a news briefing. 

The program will first begin in the Aviation Sub and Victoria Park neighborhoods, two communities that were hit hardest during the June floods, according to the city. That work will launch in spring and 530 homes are expected to be eligible across those two neighborhoods. 

Then in the summer, the program will focus on the following areas: Barton-McFarland, Chadsey Condon, Cornerstone Village, East English Village, Garden View, Jefferson Chalmers, Morningside, Moross-Morang and Warrendale. The city identified these neighborhoods because of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) service requests for basement backups and claims. This second phase of the initiative is slated to run from July to December 2024. 

The city says it can pay up to $6,000 per household. 

“If you’re in one of the 11 neighborhoods, apply now. Our plumbing contractors need to understand the capacity, how many people … they need to hire to be ready to get this job done,” said Gary Brown, DWSD director. 

Owners of occupied single family homes, two-family flats and duplexes are eligible. 

Once an application is approved, the city of Detroit Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environment Department (BSEED) will perform an inspection. A licensed plumber will then look at the home and suggest appropriate services.

Those may include: inspection of sewer lateral service line with a camera, disconnecting downspouts and installing extensions 3 feet from the foundation, installing a backwater valve only if sewer lateral is in “viable condition,” installing sump pumps where possible, and putting in place backwater valves and sump pumps with overflow. 

Backwater valves can prevent sewage from traveling back into a home during a heavy rainfall. Sump pumps move water out of a home from a basement. The program does not cover private sewer line repairs and replacements, or fixing up other private plumbing. 

If a private sewer pipe has collapsed, has a crack or other defect, the homeowner must first get that repaired themselves before they can move forward with the program.

Water and sewer rate dollars are not being used to fund this program, according to the city. Approved homeowners will have to pay a 10% deposit of the total cost to DWSD before the plumber can begin. 

However, the deposit fee will be waived for homeowners whose income qualifies them for the city’s Water Residential Assistance Program (WRAP), which is a water affordability program for households at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. In other words, a family of four with an income of $53,000. 

Landlords must pay a 20% deposit for each eligible house and don’t qualify for the waiver. The program is not open to commercial properties or nonprofits. 

Eight contractors for the project, five of whom are Detroit-based, are slated to go to City Council for consideration.

The first phase of the plan is backed by $2.4 million in federal pandemic relief dollars. Remaining funding sources are yet to be determined, Brown said. 

Last year, the city of Detroit received more than $826 million in American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, dollars — the fifth largest amount among American cities. Of that, $400 million was to address budget shortfalls and the remaining $426 million was for community investments.

The city has since announced a few efforts backed by these dollars —  a jobs and workforce training and home repair program. The historic Lee Plaza renovation project earlier this year also received $7M in pandemic relief dollars to build senior housing

To apply for the Basement Backup Protection Program, go to www.detroitmi.gov/basementprotection. Renters should speak to their landlord because only the homeowner can apply. For help, call DWSD at 313-267-8000. 

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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