Delray resident swaps homes for free ahead of new bridge build

A program in Detroit has one woman trading in her old home for a new one. 

The swap is getting people out of what could turn into a noisy neighborhood, thanks to the Bridging Neighborhoods program, because of the new Gordie Howe Bridge being built. 

"It was a very difficult decision for me but once I realized it's going to be a new beginning I didn't hesitate at all. I was the first one to raise my hand, 'Swap, swap, swap! Give me my new house, I need it now!'" Maria Walkenbach laughs.

She's lived in the Delray neighborhood all her life. Her parents lived there so her roots are deep, but a new international bridge from Canada to Detroit will change the neighborhood - and her life.

"I wanted a change. My husband passed away a few years ago and it's time for me to get on with my life, move forward. Memories are always going to be in my heart but it's time for me to get out and get a new start in life," she says.

"Ms. Walkenbach has been the most excited resident since we started. She raised her hand in one of our first community meeting saying she'll be the first person in line," says Heather Zygmontowicz, director of Bridging Neighborhoods Program. 

Think of it as a deed swap. She gives up her old home, the city takes that one, and gives her this home in a completely different area of the city: The Warrendale neighborhood.

"I didn't realize that there were other parts to the City because I never ventured further than my neighborhood," Walkenbach says. "So, just exploring Detroit is going to be exciting."

Adding to the excitement - Maria's new Land Bank house is completely renovated. She saw the home before it got its $65,000 in upgrades and couldn't believe the transformation.  

So, what made this all possible? The deal to build the Gordie Howe International Bridge, a $5.7 billion dollar project.

Detroit got about $42 million from Canada and a good chunk of that goes to the Bridging Neighborhoods Program to relocate folks, and do a lot more.

"There have been so many promises to the residents of Delray over the last 40 years, and we know that many of them have not actually come to fruition, so the biggest thing with this was giving them an option to stay in the City of Detroit," Zygmontowicz says.