At a press conference on Saturday, March 16, elected officials and residents assembled at the People’s Community Center in Delray to ask for $10 million in community benefits for residents within the footprint of the Gordie Howe International Bridge.
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López, and State Senator Stephanie Chang—elected officials whose districts cover Delray and other parts of Southwest Detroit—called for the Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority to provide residents with benefits for towards public health initiatives, home repair grants, and more.
The Gordie Howe International Bridge is a multi-year, multi-billion dollar undertaking that’s expected to be an enormous economic boon to a region with the busiest international border crossing in North America. Construction on the bridge began in October 2018.
The action this past Saturday has been part of a lengthy organizational effort by residents of Southwest Detroit.
Well before the announcement of a new international bridge, the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition was created to formulate and then negotiate terms for a community benefits agreement with the various governmental bodies and eventual developer.
And the coalition was quite successful. As part of the agreement, the city founded the Bridging Neighborhoods Program, which allows Delray residents to swap their home for a newly renovated Detroit Land Bank home in another neighborhood. The first participants in the program moved into their new homes earlier this year.
Other benefits included grants for home upgrades and air quality monitoring amounting to $50 million. The program also set up a permanent office in Springwells.
This Saturday, those involved in organizational efforts wanted to ensure that those who can’t participate in the home-swap program still receive benefits. They asked for funding in air-filtration devices in homes and schools, vegetative buffers to replace the 4,000 trees removed from the bridge area, and an expansion of the home repair program.
One of the residents at the press conference, Patricia Ramirez, spoke about the challenges of dealing with her child’s asthma. “We need protections and assurances that our health will be supported with good services when the construction starts,” she said.
Because of all the heavy industry and truck traffic in the neighborhood, which will only increase with the new international bridge, asthma rates in Delray and the surrounding neighborhoods are nearly triple the state average.
Simone Sagovac, director of the Southwest Detroit Community Benefits Coalition, says that the money from the CBA has already been earmarked towards projects like Bridging Neighborhoods, it’s just a matter of allocating them correctly.
“We’ve had a working relationship with the bridge authority for years now, and know that everyone wants to see good things happen in the community,” she said. “But we’re most in touch with what community been asking for. … That’s what we’ve been doing over years—talking to people and using fact-based research.”