How Detroiters can qualify for help with flood-damaged basements

Ben Wilson
The Detroit News
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Detroit — The city this week will begin cleaning and sanitizing the flood-damaged basements of eligible residents and is warning landlords to clean up impacted rental units or face fines.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department said Tuesday afternoon that more than 24,000 households have submitted flood damage claims following historic storms on June 26 that dumped up to six inches of rainfall in Detroit over a five-hour span.

DWSD finalized contracts over the weekend with seven companies to clean and sanitize basements and is boosting its partnership with Rocket Connections to man a call center with 80 staffers to both take calls from residents with water in their basements and to schedule clean-up services.

Terry Dudley moves flooded items to the curb of his home on Harvard Street on the east side of Detroit while cleaning up after heavy rains caused weekend flooding.

Residents eligible for the city clean-up aid must have a property tax exemption and meet one of the following conditions: older than 65, have a disability or have children 10 and under in the household. After a claim is submitted, one of 60 city inspectors will come to the house and determine what services are needed, DWSD said. 

The clean-up is part of a five-step plan laid out Thursday by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to help residents recover from the flood damage and it prioritizes those of low-income. 

The recovery effort is a massive undertaking, DWSD's Deputy Director and Chief Engineer Palencia Mobley told Detroit City Council Tuesday and it will likely take months.

“I don't want to sugarcoat and pretend that everybody is going to magically be done in a week," Mobley said during a flood update at the council's formal session. 

Due to the volume of work needed, officials estimate it will take at least three months to clean and sanitize the basements of all eligible homeowners. 

DWSD issued a notice to solicit contractors to conduct the clean-up work. While the department maintains and cleans the city sewer system, it does not have equipment or trained personnel of its own to clean and sanitize basements, DWSD spokesman Bryan Peckinpaugh noted.

Peckinpaugh said Tuesday that more than 24,000 households have reported basement backups. Of that, about 1,000 are eligible for basement cleaning and sanitizing. DWSD also will clear out flood-damaged items from basements of seniors and person with disabilities, he said. 

In 2016, the city cleaned about 400 basements following heavy rains that year in July and August, Peckinpaugh said. In 2014, when a record of 4.57 inches of rainfall fell on Detroit, prompting President Barack Obama to declare a disaster for the city, basement cleaning was not offered.

DWSD said within 48 hours of a call, a building department inspector or the Detroit Health Department will visit the home to verify the conditions and determine what cleaning is necessary. Following the inspection, a contractor will be scheduled to conduct an assessment prior to completing the cleaning and sanitizing. That work, officials said, could take anywhere from a few hours to an entire day depending on the level of damage. 

The city will work to remove health risks like mold and sewage in debris and damaged walls or floors. Reimbursements for restoring basements will depend on a presidential disaster declaration, which would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to distribute funds. 

President Joe Biden has not made the declaration yet, but Duggan, who met with Biden when the president traveled to Traverse City on July 3, said the president "made it clear to his team that he wants to do everything in his power to help the people of Michigan who suffered from this terrible flood."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wrote Tuesday to Biden, seeking the declaration for damage from widespread flooding that closed freeways, knocked out power to thousands of residents and soaked basements, causing major damage and sewer backups in Wayne and Washtenaw counties. Federal officials assessed damage in hard-hit sections of Wayne County over the weekend.

In Detroit, landlords have been notified that they must repair flood damage in their units or face a $250 fine per day beginning July 20. 

“Our responsibility is to help our most vulnerable residents during any crisis and the flooding is no different,” Duggan said in a statement. “We have taken steps to get crews ready this week. And, our renters have the right to live in a safe environment with hot water and a working furnace. We will make sure that landlords in our city are held accountable.” 

The city is directing resources toward its most vulnerable and urging others to contact insurance providers, clean and sanitize on their own and seek to seek reimbursement through FEMA if a presidential disaster is ultimately declared. 

Those with damaged items and large trash can continue to place it on their curbs and city crews will continue to remove it throughout the week. There is no bulk ticketing in flooded areas.

Residents can report flood damage or request cleaning services by calling (313) 267-8000 or going to www.detroitmi.gov/waterdamageclaims.

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