Duggan outlines plan for getting Detroiters FEMA flood relief

Amelia Benavides-Colón
The Detroit News

Detroit — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan wants to make sure residents who were affected by flooding during the region's massive storms this month will be able to have their damage covered by the federal government, and he has a five-step plan to make it happen.

"I met with the president on Saturday ... I reminded him that in 2014 President Obama gave us a disaster declaration five weeks after the flood," Duggan said Thursday at a press conference. "President Biden told me that if we get our homework done and get it in quickly, he would beat that record."

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan (left) and Gary Brown, Director of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, speak during news conference in Detroit on Thursday, July 8, 2021.

Duggan was joined Thursday by Detroit Water and Sewerage Department director Gary Brown to discuss the city's response to the recent flooding that left hundreds of thousands with water and electrical damage.

Last weekend Metro Detroit received over 7 inches of rain in a 12-hour period, turning eastbound Interstate 94 into a river and leaving residents without power for days. 

Many residents are feeling deja vu, remembering the severe damages that came with the flood of 2014 that left the city of Detroit with $1.2 billion in damages. Dearborn city officials estimated 40% of homes and businesses sustained basement flooding or sewer backups, The News reported in 2014.

Duggan's priority this year: Ensuring a presidential declaration of disaster relief for the most affected areas so residents can be reimbursed for damages.

"In 2014, FEMA paid out nearly $80 million for losses in that flood," said Duggan. "The one this year is probably triple the size; it's going to be an enormous amount of money."

The press conference laid out a five-step plan for residents to begin recovering from damages, prioritizing low-income residents:

  1. Continue to remove debris from the curbs.
  2. Address standing water in basements. 
  3. Continue removing debris from basements.
  4. Clean and sanitize basements to prevent dangerous mold from setting in. 
  5. Push for disaster declaration from FEMA to get federal reimbursement.

Detroit's Public Works Department has over 70 crews in the field picking up 1,000 tons of debris daily, Duggan said. Residents are asked to continue placing debris at the curb and tickets will not be issued.

FEMA reimbursement can only take place if all damages and lost property are photographed for documentation. Take pictures of everything thrown out, said Duggan.

For those unable to clean out their basements, the city has 50 employees and 200 volunteers working to help residents and will be adding private contractors in order to "get every basement in this city cleared out." They are cleaning out 60-70 basements per day. Residents can call (313) 267-8000 for help. 

FEMA will be filing reimbursement checks for individuals who hire companies to sanitize their basements, said Duggan, "so get it done now."

Landlords are required to ensure a safe residence. This means removing debris, cleaning and sanitizing, and making sure hot water tanks and furnaces work.

Landlords will receive a fine of $250 a day starting on July 20 if these conditions are not met.

"Please take this seriously and deal with your properties right now," said Duggan.

Residents still experiencing standing water in their basements can call (313) 267-8000 to get an investigator to their home. 

If FEMA reimbursement is granted, landlords will be reimbursed for cleanup and repairs and renters will be reimbursed for lost property.

"We have 11,000 homeowners in this city who have a property tax exception," said Duggan. "Gary Brown said ... 'I want to take our poorest and most vulnerable homeowners in the city and I want to line up the contractors and I want to send them in first. So the poorest families in this region get their basements cleaned first'."

Homeowners with a city poverty tax exemption who are either over 65, disabled and/or in a household with children 10 and under will be prioritized.

Duggan expects 800 to 1,000 families to qualify, which should take about two months to complete.

Call (313) 267-8000 to start the process. Within 48 hours, an inspector will assess the property and homeowners can sign off on any work to repair flood damages.