By Charles Sercombe
Hamtramck can shut the door on its 40-year-old housing discrimination lawsuit.
Last week, HUD, the federal housing agency, announced it will give Hamtramck $13.9 million to provide the final 39 housing units needed to settle a housing discrimination lawsuit. The award was part of a larger effort by the federal government to help cities deal with the growing number of vacant houses.
Hamtramck had applied for $20 million with the hopes that it would at least receive some of that. The tactic to ask for more and hope for anything paid off, said City Manager Bill Cooper.
“We intentionally budgeted to cover the cost of the entire R-31 case,” Cooper said, in reference to the housing discrimination lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed after city officials in the 1960s purposely targeted three neighborhoods of predominantly African-Americans for housing demolition. The demolition was done to force out the black residents.
The residents filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city. The case dragged on for years until a settlement agreement was reach, which required the city to provide 200 housing units for the plaintiffs.
The case dragged on for many more years while the plaintiffs and city officials argued over housing plans and financing. A plan was finally put into place several years ago and a combination of county, state and federal funds were used to begin building new housing or used for rehabbing existing housing units.
In all, the city has provided 200 housing units by the time this latest housing project starts up.
Cooper said he expects construction and rehabbing to begin by summer and should be completed within two to three years.
The project will cost $6 million but will require the city to hire someone to oversee the project and provide financial assistance to those seeking housing.
News of the HUD grant came just before a commemoration of the lawsuit was held on Monday, featuring an appearance of the federal judge who has overseen the case from the beginning. Federal Judge Damon Keith is now in his 80s and has said he plans to be on hand when the last house is ready for occupancy.
Also on hand at the commemoration was Gov. Jennifer Granholm whose administration has worked closely with Hamtramck to see that the housing suit gets settled. Granholm once clerked for Judge Keith.