Freedom Village, a safe haven for refugees, planned in Hamtramck

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Hamtramck — Wayne County is working to aid refugees fleeing their war-torn countries for new lives in Michigan with a safe haven they are calling Freedom Village, officials announced Monday.

The county is partnering with Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, Samaritas and the city of Hamtramck to create the resettlement designed to provide refugees and immigrants with transitional affordable housing. 

Construction of three two-family homes to house six families on Faber in Hamtramck is underway and is expected to be completed by summer 2020, county officials said.

Under the agreement, the new construction for Freedom Village will be at no cost to the city of Hamtramck. It will increase the taxable value of the vacant lots, bringing them back onto the tax rolls, officials said.

The program was created to provide a better life to low-income refugees and immigrants by surrounding them with resources to eventually pursue permanent homeownership opportunities, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said.

"We are a welcoming county that derives its strength from the diversity of its residents, and this project epitomizes that core value," Evans said in a statement.

The Hamtramck project will develop newly constructed, affordable houses on Wayne County Land Bank-owned parcels in the city. 

After the parcels are cleared, Wayne County will assemble the properties for the Hamtramck Refugee Resettlement project. Under the agreement, the new construction will be at no cost to the city of Hamtramck. It will increase the taxable value of the vacant lots, bringing them back onto the tax rolls and contributing revenue to the city, officials said.

Wayne County Metropolitan Community Action Agency will serve as the property developer and owner, and Samaritas, a resettlement agency, will place refugees and provide further services. 

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The program intends to use its resources to provide job training, school readiness and homebuyer assistance while temporarily housing refugees near resources such as Wayne County’s Federally Qualified Health Center until they can purchase their own home. 

CEO Sam Beals said Samaritas, which has helped resettle families in Michigan for 70 years, couldn't be more excited for the unique partnership.

"Samaritas is incredibly excited to be partnering with Wayne County and Wayne Metro for this important project that will create opportunities for affordable transitional housing for the New Americans families in our care,” Beals said. "Having beautiful builds like this one, appropriately called Freedom Village, in Hamtramck is much needed and a great location for this project as a welcoming city in metro Detroit.” 

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The United States is on track to take in the fewest number of refugees in four decades, according to U.S. State Department data, and the steep decline is reflected overall in Michigan. 

From fiscal year 2012 through 2018, Michigan was the fourth largest state in the country to accept refugees, behind Texas, California and New York. The number of refugees resettling in Michigan has declined 86% since fiscal year 2016.

More than 600,000 foreign-born individuals live in Michigan, and of that, more than 70% live in southeast Michigan, according to the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan.

Despite the reductions in refugee arrivals, the need for services for those already here continues to grow, according to a study from the Southeast Michigan Immigrant and Refugee Funder Collaborative.

County officials did not disclose the cost of the program but said it's being funded with federal housing dollars through Wayne County HOME Investment Partnerships Program, a federal grant program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Development.

"Freedom Village is a beacon of hope and compassion," said Louis Piszke, CEO of Wayne Metro. "The project demonstrates Wayne County’s commitment to America’s longstanding practice of helping people seeking asylum. I couldn’t be more proud that Wayne Metro is a partner in welcoming refugees to our community where they can live and breathe free."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_