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nnpa_hudbrief_0386After making his welcome announcement Friday morning that Detroit will be receiving an $8.9 million allocation to help the city become better prepared for future floods and other natural disasters, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro paid a visit to the Green Garage in Midtown to further discuss ideas with a small, handpicked group of community leaders for how to make Detroit more energy efficient in a way that will best benefit lower income residents, both in terms of cost savings and in terms of health benefits as well.

Some of the groups represented include the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), NextEnergy, FocusHOPE, Mayor Duggan’s administration, Southwest Housing Solutions, the Kresge Foundation, and the department of Housing and Revitalization for the City of Detroit.

“We wanted to get folks together today to talk about some opportunities that exist going forward” with the strong push that the President and his administration are planning, as well as some efforts at HUD that have been long underway, said Castro. “The President is focused on Detroit. It matters to him personally.”

“I don’t need to tell anyone around this room how urgent this is. Climate change is real. 14 of the 15 hottest years on record have been in this century. The carbon dioxide levels are the highest in 800,000 years. I still couldn’t believe that figure when I read it.”

“We want to play our part in terms of encouraging innovative housing efforts and urban revitalization efforts that have the effect of cutting carbon pollution, increasing energy efficiency, and making communities better prepared for what we know we will be the results of climate change for years to come.”

Along those lines, Castro made a point of singling out the Green Garage as an example of the kind of energy efficient development that HUD and the Obama administration are encouraging as the sort of future-leaning development designed to function in concert with a drastically changing environmental reality. The Green Garage is a co-working office space containing more than 50 small businesses located in Midtown on 2nd Avenue just south of Prentis. Using energy efficient means it has managed to slash its energy usage (gas and electricity) to nearly one-tenth the amount of similar-sized buildings, resulting in energy bills that are almost as small as that of a medium-sized apartment in the city. Although Midtown is hardly a low-income neighborhood, the idea of retrofitting homes and businesses to incorporate heightened efficiency standards, as the Green Garage has done, represent a model of what can be replicated in some form or another throughout the city.

Earlier in the day, Castro made the City of Detroit very happy during his press conference when he announced the nearly $9 million in disaster preparedness funds.

“This combines getting ready for the next natural disaster, but doing it in a way that is sustainable and is forward looking. And I’m happy to hear about a lot of Detroit’s efforts,” he said.

The funds were in direct response to the brutal storm that battered Detroit one year ago this month that drenched more than 60,000 Detroit homes and caused an estimated $630 million in damage.The storm also caused more than 10 billion gallons of combined sewer overflow, with 6 billion gallons of the flow coming from Detroit’s system, which serves more than 70 southeastern Michigan communities.

According to the Detroit News, “The plan diverts storm water from the city’s aging sewer system, which can quickly become overwhelmed during severe weather. ‘That’s what green infrastructure is all about,’ Duggan said. ‘Detroit is going to be a national leader in using our vacant land in a way that is both beautiful and environmentally sensitive.’”

Castro’s visit was also an obvious outgrowth – and outreach – promoting President Obama’s recently unveiled far-reaching environmental strategy. Detroit represents part of a broader attempt to connect the President’s strategy to the ground level by soliciting cooperation and buy-in from communities that stand to benefit the most from his proposals.

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