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Lansing Tearing Down Homes to Fight Flooding

Photo: Image by City of Lansing

Lansing Tearing Down Homes to Fight Flooding

By FOX 47 News. CREATED Feb 13, 2013

The City of Lansing has landed a $750,000 grant from FEMA to fight flood danger.

Lansing plans to use the money to buy and clear 21 properties in high-risk areas, including 16 homes the city will raze within the year.

According to Lansing's Emergency Management Office, there are more than 2,100 properties in the city's floodplain. The city has been working since 2008 to reduce that number.

While Lansing has been lucky with flooding in the last 30 years, Ronda Oberlin with Emergency Management, says that could easily change.

"We haven't had a major flood since 1975," she said. "But that doesn't mean our flood risk has diminished in the least."

Many of those living in Lansing's flood-prone areas are low income. Twenty-five percent of the floodplain population lives below the poverty level, with levels as high as 46 percent in some neighborhoods. Oberlin says the FEMA grant will help them move and increase overall public safety.

"It's like dropping rocks in a bathtub, every rock you take out lowers the water a little bit," she explained. "So all of the homes we take out, all of the impervious surfaces we take out actually lessens the flood risk for the rest of the neighborhood."

The program is completely voluntary and targets two neighborhoods, Baker-Donora and Urbandale, areas known for the deepest and most high-velocity flooding

Once the homes are razed, the city will use the properties as recreational areas or community gardens.

Homeowners who have chosen to stay in the floodplain tell us they are happy with the program and enjoy the added privacy of the vacant lots.

The Lansing Fire Department is also behind the plan.

"There are homes that can be flood-proofed based on FEMA guidelines, so for emergency responders to eliminate the homes out of the floodplain saves money in the long run," Emergency Management Director Michael Hamel said.

City leaders say insurers are noticing Lansing's efforts. If homes keep moving out of flood danger, they're expecting lower flood insurance rates for everyone.

"We've been doing this for a few years now, this is kind of stage two and we've got more to come," Hamel said.

The city is in the process of accepting the FEMA grant now. A similar grant helped Lansing clear 24 properties in 2008, also in the Baker-Donora and Urbandale neighborhoods.

Oberlin says Lansing is eventually planning to expand the program to other parts of the city.