It’s a bit precarious living on Myrtle Avenue in south suburban Harvey these days. It’s unclear how long residents can stay here.
Carlita Poole-Tingle has lived on the block her entire life. The 47-year-old grew up in the house next door to the one she owns now. After she got married 16 years ago, her parents gave her and her husband their current residence as a gift. The house has a wide porch with a white bench that Poole-Tingle uses to sit outside and chat with neighbors.
“Me and my dad and two of his friends gutted the whole house out,” Poole-Tingle said. And now all of Poole-Tingle’s hard work will be torn down to make way for a stormwater detention basin.
For decades, Harvey has weathered severe flooding. The city’s aged infrastructure is made up of combined sewers that are prone to overflowing during heavy rains. Past storms have caused long-term damage to buildings and roadways in Harvey. Now, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) is stepping in to temper some of those effects over time starting with building a stormwater detention basin – but it will cost some residents their homes.
Poole-Tingle’s home is one of 31 properties the suburb will acquire through eminent domain to complete the project.
“There’s a lot of vacant lots, homes that have been abandoned for years [for] years plus,” Poole-Tingle said. “[The water basin] can go there.”
But Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark said it can’t. The physics of the project won’t allow another location.
“The basin is a big cup, and gravity pulls the water to that particular area,” Clark said. “Gravity is not going to pull the water over to the village.”
The project is the first of a three-phase venture. This first step includes a basin and about two miles of storm sewers along 153rd Street and eight side streets. Water runoff will fall into the basin instead of jamming up the sewer line or soaking into people’s homes. The other two phases have not been designed yet. Over the course of 20 years, MWRD officials say the project will alleviate flooding.
“We are optimistic that we will receive some federal grant funding through FEMA, but that’s not secured yet. The total project cost is $9.6 million right now,” MWRD Director of Engineering Catherine O’Connor said. “But we don’t have the final cost. The final design isn’t complete.”
Since that design isn’t complete, they don’t know when exactly the project will start. Despite the squishy timeline, O’Connor said the construction could begin next summer. She expects it to result in protecting about 209 houses, which accounts for 14% of the structures the district identified as being impacted by a potential flood event. As part of its preliminary research, MWRD sent out questionnaires to residents in 2020. Sixty-six percent of respondents said they experienced problems due to flooding.
Alderwoman Colby Chapman represents Harvey’s second ward, where the project will be installed. She said the mayor and water reclamation district aren’t considering how detrimental having to move could be on people’s health.
“When I look at the families on this block, we’re talking about folks that are much up in age,” Chapman said. “So are we looking at that as a way to make a valid decision on the livelihood of folks in their 80s?”
Chapman said Mayor Clark has been unresponsive and uncommunicative regarding the basin project.
But Clark said he does understand. He says he went out twice to personally knock on the doors of people who would lose their homes to the project, and that he encourages residents to go to his Friday afternoon open office hours.
“As a 54-year resident, I understand the fact that you cannot get those memories back,” Clark said.
The water reclamation district will send out appraisers and relocation consultants to help residents relocate to houses of equal value to the ones they live in. That’s not enough for Carlita Poole-Tingle.
“I’ve gone through a lot of anxieties with this because I don’t know when this is going to happen,” Poole-Tingle said. “There’s no date.”
She’s wondering if she’ll be able to spend Christmas in the brick house with the windchimes and friendly porch.
Adora Namigadde is a metro reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her at @adorakn.