A $1.2 million refugee housing project is coming to Hamtramck.
Using federal housing dollars, Wayne County is partnering with nonprofit groups Samaritas and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency to develop a block on Faber Street in Hamtramck to build three homes that have two units each.
The housing — called ‘Freedom Village’ — will accommodate a total of six refugee families and is expected to open in the summer of 2020.
The money for the project is from a federal grant program through the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD) that supports low-income families. The housing is for refugees with low incomes, in need of temporary housing after they settle in the U.S.
“Freedom Village seeks to provide a better life to low-income refugees and immigrants by surrounding them with the resources they need to eventually pursue permanent homeownership opportunities,” Wayne County Executive Warren Evans said last week in a statement announcing the project. “We are a welcoming county that derives its strength from the diversity of its residents, and this project epitomizes that core value.”
Hamtramck has the highest percentage of immigrants among cities in Michigan, about 44%, according to U.S. Census data.
It was historically known as a center for Polish immigrants, but today, Yemeni Americans make up the biggest ethnic group, followed by Bangladeshi Americans. The two groups have revitalized a city that was declining in population and transformed vacant areas into thriving business corridors, such as along Conant Avenue.
The city has also taken in Bosnian and Serbian refugees in recent decades escaping the Balkan conflicts.
It’s unclear what countries the refugees for the new housing will come from. That decision is made later by U.S. government officials working with resettlement agencies. Samaritas, which formerly was known as Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, has resettled refugees in Michigan over the years.
“We’re really excited,” Hamtramck Mayor Karen Majewski told the Free Press. “We’ve long been a home to immigrants. That’s kind of how we were born. Through the years, as the political situations have changed, we’ve welcomed refugees as well.”
The refugees will rent the houses, said Wayne County spokesman Keith Owens. They may be able to qualify for vouchers that allow them to pay no more than one-third of their income on housing. Refugees generally receive some financial assistance for a few months after they arrive in the U.S. that can help with housing costs.
The city of Hamtramck will not bear any of the costs for the project, which Wayne County said will contribute revenue to Hamtramck by adding homes to the vacant lots that bring them back onto the tax rolls.
Vacant lots are being used for the new housing. Two of them were owned by the city of Hamtramck, one by Wayne County Land Bank, and one by Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority.
Wayne County acquired the lot from Michigan Land Bank Fast Track Authority, and the Wayne County Land Bank purchased the two lots from Hamtramck for $1 each, said Wayne County.
The Wayne County Metropolitan Community Action Agency, a nonprofit group that helps the poor, will be the property developer while Samaritas will the refugee placement and services provider. The Wayne County Land Bank Corporation is also part of the agreement.
As part of the agreement, Wayne County will loan $1.2 million at zero percent interest to the Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency. The HUD program that’s involved with the project is the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which “supports affordable housing by providing rental housing and homeownership opportunities for low-income families,” said Wayne County in a statement.
The project aims to help the refugees with job training, school, and home buyer assistance for future more permanent housing, said county officials.
“Freedom Village is a beacon of hope and compassion,” said Wayne County Metropolitan Community Action Agency CEO Louis Piszke. “The project demonstrates Wayne County’s commitment to America’s long-standing practice of helping people seeking asylum.”
The new housing comes at at time of a significant decrease in the number of refugees being admitted into the U.S.
The number of refugees resettled in Michigan dropped 75% during the first fiscal year under President Donald Trump, the Free Press previously reported. In the 2018 fiscal year, which was from Oct. 1, 2017, to Sept. 30, 2018, Michigan took in only 647 refugees — the lowest number since 2006.
The number of refugees from the Middle East coming to Michigan has plummeted while refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo are now the largest group in the state, making up more than 43% of Michigan’s refugee population in 2018.
The housing could help stabilize Hamtramck, which has a poverty rate of about 50% and is facing revenue challenges.
“Hamtramck is probably one of the more desirable places to start as a family the way our community is set up, with the businesses a family needs,” said Hamtramck City Councilman Anam Miah. “You can literally walk to anywhere, don’t have to rely on public transportation or having a car.”
“Hamtramck has always been a welcoming community,” added Miah, an immigrant from Bangladesh. “I look forward to it being completed and seeing more families come to our community.”
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