Washington Heights was largely populated by workers in the middle of the 19th century. As railroads were constructed throughout the region railroad workers came into town in droves; many of them found temporary homes in communities like Washington Heights. Today, Washington Heights is bordered on the south by 107th St., 89th on the north, Beverly Avenue on the west, and Eggleston Avenue on the east – or about 12 miles south of the Loop. As of 2014, nearly 90% of the housing units in Washington Heights were occupied by over 26,000 residents. Of this 90%, approximately 70% are owner occupied. 73% of the housing stock is single family, detached homes and includes a number of brick bungalows.
Flooding in the Community
Today, Washington Heights experiences severe and repeated flooding. From 2007 to 2011, 2,338 flood-related insurance claims were filed from a total of 26,096 households in zipcodes 60620, 60628 and 60643 in Washington Heights, with more than $6,407,703 paid out in insurance claim damages (CNT, 2014).
Figure 1. Flood Damage Claims in Washington Park from 2007-2011
The City of Chicago was granted Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds after heavy rains in April 2013 brought severe flooding.  During the days of the storm, residents of Washington Heights called 311 for assistance 509 times with an average of 2.3 calls per home. The image below shows that during the storm, residents across the community had water in their basement or could see water in the street.
Figure 2. Washington Heights 311 Flood Related Calls in 2013 by Block Group
How are Properties Affected?
Our analysis has found that residents and business owners in Chicago experience several types of flooding:
- Basement backup from the local sewer system and private lateral lines, impacting several parts of town.
- Street flooding from local drainage issues, causing pooling in the street.
- Foundation seepage, causing rot and mold in basement walls.
Four main factors contribute to flooding in Washington Heights:
- Increasing impervious surfaces: As open lands are converted into parking lots, streets, and rooftops, rainwater finds fewer places to sink into the ground.
- Aging sewer infrastructure: As sewer systems age, pipes may collapse or crack, causing local drainage issues.
- More severe storms: Climate change is bringing more frequent high-intensity storms to the region.
- Flat topography: Most stormwater is directed via gravity. Flat streets in the city create challenges for moving the water out of neighborhoods.
Reducing your Risks
RainReady is working with the communities of Avalon Park, Chatham, South Shore, Pullman, Calumet Park, and Washington Heights to better understand the impact of heavy rain on the communities in order to reduce or eliminate flooding. We need your help! By filling in our online survey, you can help us identify where the flooding and wet basements are occurring, so that we can better target support.
Washington Heights Community Residents Want to Address Flooding
Some residents of the community have already taken steps to reduce flooding by installing rain barrels. These barrels capture and store rainwater draining from the roof that would otherwise go to the sewer system and can contribute to basement backups.
Rain barrels were distributed at an event hosted by Faith in Place, a Chicago faith-based organization, and supplied by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
Protecting your Home
- Assess Your Property: To reduce risk, you must understand the way water moves across your property. An engineer, plumber, electrician, or landscape designer can help, but often you can identify the cause of flooding by walking the property and taking photos during a storm.
- Make Yard Improvements: Plant trees and native plants to soak up the water in your yard and parkway. Regrade your yard and redirect gutter downspouts so that water drains away from your home.
- Manage Water Within Your Home: Prepare your basement for water. Lift appliances off the floor, put valuables in plastic storage bins, and consider investing in a sump pump, backup generator, backwater valve, overhead sewer, or drain tiles.
- Get Insured: Educate yourself about insurance policies and invest in the best policy for your needs. Most home insurance policies do not cover flood damage. You can purchase a sewer rider to cover basement backup, or look into the National Flood Insurance Program if you experience riverine flooding. No insurance covers damage from foundation seepage.
- Expect and Prepare for Extreme Weather: If the experts predict rain, prepare your home. Clear your drainage areas, secure your windows and doors, and check your sump pump. If you experienced flooding, call your flood insurance company to file a claim. Even if you aren’t covered, note the date and time as well as the depth of the water document and photograph items that were damaged, including their estimated value.
 CITY OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS CDBG-DR Action Plan (n.d.):. Web.