Residents in path of Howe bridge question aid proposal
Detroit — Southwest Detroit community members gathered Thursday at a community center to learn more about benefits in the works for those in the path of the Gordie Howe bridge project.
Not all walked away satisfied, according to questions lobbed at the mayoral representatives.
“It’s such a huge deal and some people are hearing about it for the first time. There’s always people who are just finding out no matter what meeting I go to. People get frustrated and that’s normal,” said city council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who represents District 6.
A proposal before the Detroit City Council requests $45 million to fund programs including health monitoring, job training and relocation to help southwest Detroit’s Delray residents find other houses in the city. Council members are expected to review the proposal Tuesday.
The $2.1 billion Gordie Howe International Bridge will provide a second span at the busiest U.S.-Canada crossing to complement the aging Ambassador Bridge owned by businessman Manuel Moroun.
The largest amount of funding will be given to the Neighborhood Improvement Fund, which will relocate willing residents outside the area designated for a new bridge plaza. The program will cost $32.6 million, up from $26 million announced last month, and will be offered only to homeowners.
“If you live in Delray and your home is not already being taken for the bridge project, we are offering you ... a house somewhere else in Detroit,” said Eli Savit, a lawyer from Mayor Mike Duggan’s office. “We are also giving you a budget of $60,000 to renovate the house you choose.”
The city also will pay moving expenses, he said.
“No one is being forced to leave. It’s an option,” he said during the meeting at the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition on Leigh Street.
The other option for residents 150-300 feet from construction to have their home soundproofed and air purifiers installed.
But the proposal, which is designed to provide relief for those who stay and relocation to residents who choose to move out of the path of the bridge project, seemed to perplex and disappoint some residents. They challenged officials who announced the plan last month and lawmakers who heralded the agreement with the state and other representatives.
State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who represents the area where the bridge will be built, said the meeting was designed to address questions the community had and remind them it is a victory that has been in the making for nearly 15 years.
“This is really positive step forward. A lot of the folks I’ve been talking with of the past two years are amazed that we even got this far. The fact that we are even at this point is exciting,” Chang said.
Taxes and worry about replacing their low-cost housing seemed to bog down the good news Thursday of the funding of the Neighborhood Improvement Fund.
Michelle Thomas has two children and has rented her home in Delray since 2011. She asked officials about renters who would be forced out of their homes. She was told they were only focusing on homeowners for relocation. Landlords are not eligible.
“How is that going to impact my family, who can’t afford to move somewhere that’s not as affordable as here?” Thomas said. “Either way, I still have to move, but because I don’t own, I won’t be part of this benefit.”
John Nagy, 63, who has been a homeowner in Delray for more than 53 years, said many issues were not being taken into consideration.
“Taxes are really low in this area,” he said. “What if they move someone and they can’t sustain the new home? The long-term issues are not being addressed.”.
Another $10 million is proposed for a five-year job training and placement program for construction and operations jobs.
“Most of the people down here are over 50 years old,” Thomas said. “They are not going to be job training.” .
The proposal also seeks $2.4 million for health and emissions monitoring before construction and a year after the bridge opening. The plan includes two permanent air quality monitors, a mobile monitoring unit and 70 indoor air quality monitors for homes.
Savit said they will continue holding forums to address questions and concerns.
“Even after (council meets Tuesday), the community members are going to have an opportunity to negotiate,” Savit said. “I think people have a lot of questions but I think the more they learn about this program, the more excited they are getting. We have people who want it to be sooner rather than later.”
Duggan announced June 23 that the city had reached an agreement with the state to sell land, assets and some streets for the project to build the second bridge for more than $48 million. Proceeds of the sale will fund the neighborhood programs and voluntary relocations.
The bridge will connect Interstate 75 and Highway 401 between Detroit's industrial Delray neighborhood, north of Zug Island and Windsor’s Brighton Beach area, with the six-lane bridge. The bridge isn’t expected to be open before 2022; construction is scheduled to begin in 2018. Canada is supplying Michigan’s $550 million share of the bridge, which will have to be repaid through tolls.
Chang and Castaneda-Lopez both said they are hopeful the proposal will be approved Tuesday by City Council, but it will not be the end.
“Even after the City Council works, there will still be a lot of work we will be doing to advocate for the community members. It’s not over,” Chang said.
Castaneda-Lopez said this is a success because “previous officials didn’t advocate for the community.”
“I understand the suspicion and frustration and we’re still working to get something worked out for renters,” she said.
The Detroit Lank Bank will coordinate the relocation of the willing residents from their homes in southwest Detroit to other rehabbed homes owned by the land bank.
“It’s going to take some time and I don’t want to make any promises, but we are going to move as fast as we can,” said Charity Dean, sales and program manager for the land bank.