Record flooding last summer filled the basements of thousands of Detroiters with water and sewage, some more than once. An untold amount in damages to personal property was lost when June storms dumped more than six inches of rainfall in Detroit in less than 24 hours.
The devastation prompted a presidential emergency declaration. Impacted residents applied for federal aid and submitted damage claims with the city. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department officials said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paid out about $107 million in claims, but some residents were denied, haven’t received assistance yet and were left to foot the bill for the damages.
Experts say Detroit should expect intense rain and flooding again, and with it, more damage.
“One inch of water can cause up to $25,000 in damage,” said James Sink, regional flood insurance liason for the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services. “Flooding is the most common and costly disaster in the United States,” said Sink, adding that southeast Michigan has been seeing an increase in the frequency of heavy rainfall events and flooding.
Ahead of the warmer months when flooding usually occurs, we compiled a list of resources for Detoiters to prepare and protect themselves, including two new city programs that kick-off this spring. Below are details on what to do, how to do it, and how much it will cost.
Basement Backup Protection Program
What it does: Through this city program a licensed plumber will inspect houses and suggest services, either disconnecting downspouts and/or installation of a backwater valve or sump pump. A licensed contractor provided by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department will then make the repairs using up to $6,000 per household.
DWSD Director Gary Brown notes every home has a minimum of four downspouts and each can carry up to 12 gallons of water a minute.
“So that’s almost 50 gallons of rainwater in a heavy rain event that’s going all the way down to the foundation,” he told BridgeDetroit. “It’s trying to get down to these drain tiles … so it’s pooling around the foundation. Now it’s coming in at the walls, at the foundation and the floor.”
Eligibility: Homeowners in 11 flood-prone Detroit neighborhoods are able to apply: Aviation Sub, Barton-McFarland, Chadsey Condon, Garden View, Warrendale, Cornerstone Village, East English Village, Jefferson Chalmers, Morningside, Moross-Morang, and Victoria Park.
Brown said the program begins in two pilot areas: Victoria Park and the Aviation Sub. The full list of targeted neighborhoods were identified using 30,000 flood claims filed citywide last year as well as internal DWSD flood claim data from the past five years. The data, Brown said, was overlaid by neighborhood on a city map and “it clearly showed the areas of the city that had the most flooding.”
About 1,700 homeowners from the eligible neighborhoods have applied, he added.
Cost: Homeowners are responsible for a 10% deposit of the total cost to DWSD before the work begins. For rental properties, landlords are responsible for 20% of the total cost.
How: If you are a homeowner, visit www.detroitmi.gov/basementprotection. If you are a renter, contact your landlord.
Detroit Home Repair Fund
What it does: This city program helps Detroiters fix their roofs, stairs, windows, drywall, plumbing, and foundations. There is no cap on how much can be spent per house, but the average amount will likely be around $10,000. The fund isn’t specifically for flood help, but city officials have said that projects related to flood prevention won’t be excluded.
Eligibility: Detroit homeowners with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level, or earning $27,180 or less a year, who have applied for Detroit’s poverty tax exemption, or HOPE program, are eligible.
How: Call the Detroit Home Repair Fund at (313) 306-2082.
Service and Sewer Line Warranty Program
What it does: The City of Detroit has partnered with American Water Resources to offer discounted protection to homeowners from future damage to private water and sewer lines, which standard homeowners insurance doesn’t cover.
Cost: $8 a month.
How: To enroll, visit the American Water Resources website.
What it does: Most homeowner and rental insurance policies don’t cover flooding, so occupants can protect themselves by purchasing flood insurance.
President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency following the historic June 2021 flooding events in Detroit and several surrounding Metro Detroit communities. Some residents were eligible for money from FEMA.
Even so, Brown stressed FEMA is “not an insurance policy that’s going to make you whole for damages.”
It is, he said, “going to make your home safe if you lost a hot water tank, if you lost a furnace,” he said. “People are expecting it to be an insurance replacement plan.”
DWSD, he said, hasn’t paid out $10 million in claims in the last decade. FEMA’s payments were massive and the disaster declaration was speedy, he said.
“Was it enough? No. Are people disappointed that they didn’t get more? Yes. But $107 million infused into the Detroit economy to make these repairs is at least significant,” Brown said.
Added Sink: “Most flood events do not receive a federal disaster declaration.” Even when residents are eligible for FEMA money, he agreed it doesn’t cover all of the damages, highlighting the importance of insurance to help residents recover.
There are several insurance options. Sump pump failure insurance and backup water protection are two of them and they are sometimes bundled together or sold as separate coverage. These options can be added to an existing insurance policy and typically cost between $50-$500 per year.
The third option is purchasing flood insurance, which is a seperate, stand alone policy. How close a property is to a body of water will influence the rates, but the average premium for flood insurance for Wayne County residents is around $1,036 a year, according to Sink. For Detroit residents the average is between $700 and $800.
For homeowners, Sink generally recommends all three: backup water protection, sump pump failure protection, and a separate flood insurance policy, because each covers damages from different causes.
Renters can purchase flood insurance to cover the cost of damage to personal items inside their unit.
Cost: From $50 to about $1,000 a year depending on the type of insurance.
How: Visit floodsmart.gov to find an insurance provider. Coverage typically takes a month to go into effect. For questions about food insurance, contact the state’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services at (877) 999-6442.
Making your own fixes
What it does: The City of Detroit recommends a few actions homeowners can take to protect their homes from flooding, including making sure basement drains and street catch basins are free of debris, and disconnecting downspouts and redirecting them to the lawn. The city also encourages residents to snake out lateral sewer lines every couple of years. If residents have financial means, the city urges them to look into installing a backwater valve or sump pump.
How: Contact a licensed plumber to install a backwater valve or sump pump. Some fixes might qualify for the City of Detroit’s Home Repair Loan program, which offers loans between $5,000-$25,000 at 0% interest. Applications for the loan program are available at neighborhood intake centers, recreation centers, district managers’ offices for the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, and online at detroithomeloans.org.