Detroit — The large-scale campaign to destroy all blight in Detroit is taking aim to create a 35 block zone free of derelict structures and junky vacant lots.
It’s only 120 decrepit, decaying, abandoned homes in a city with hundreds of times more scarring the landscape, but the latest effort to clear crumbling homes and trash-strewn lots in the Brightmoor area might finally provide a blueprint of how to overcome the high costs and bureaucratic roadblocks that have thwarted all efforts to rid the city of its persistent and pernicious blight.
The vision to clear 35 blocks of blight in a neighborhood where 80 percent of the homes may be empty was unveiled by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and the grandson of one of the nation’s largest home builders.
The project is the latest effort of the Detroit Blight Authority, a nonprofit lead by Bill Pulte, descendant of William Pulte, founder of nationwide residential builder PulteGroup Inc. It’s part of a broader citywide push to eliminate a problem that’s long plagued Detroit: empty, abandoned structures and trashy lots.
No one is sure how much blight there is within the 139-square mile city limits. Earlier estimates show there may be 78,000 empty structures and 91,000 vacant lots.
“You can’t tear down a house here, a house there… it doesn't work,” Levin said at a Monday press conference at Brightmoor Community Center. “If you don’t tear down all the (abandoned) houses in a community, the blight will gradually grow,” Levin said.
The 35 blocks are in the northwest neighborhood of Brightmoor and the estimated plan would cost up to $900,000 and clear nearly 70 homes. The plan is a 21-block expansion of a project the nonprofit started last year, which helped clean the trash from vacant lots in a 14-block area of Brightmoor. Another 50 blighted homes in that area also are to be razed. The 35-block area is roughly defined by Outer Drive West on the north and west, I-96 on the south, and Burt Road on the east.
The plan still needs regulatory approval, but that should come soon, Pulte said, and the area could be entirely cleared by the end of this year. It has not yet been decided what would happen to the land when it becomes blight free, he said, adding they are working with residents to determine what should be done next.
Pulte formed the blight authority last year and the group also lead the effort to clear 10 blocks in the Eastern Market area.
Blight is a major focus for many civic, neighborhood and public leaders this year. The cost to get rid all of it may top $1 billion, city officials have said in the past.
Quicken Loans Inc. founder Dan Gilbert is helping lead a team to create the most extensive property database of deteriorating and abandoned structures in city history. Gilbert, whose Rock Ventures is one of the major landowners downtown, has acknowledged the blight effort is essentially a way to address the gap between a surging downtown and a city with neighborhoods plagued by empty, dangerous properties.
Pulte mentioned a vow made by Gilbert recently, in which Gilbert said he would work to get rid of every single speck of blight in Detroit “or die trying.” “That’s me, too” Pulte said Monday.
The Pulte name is synonymous with home building. Bill’s grandfather, William, founded Pulte on Detroit’s east side some five decades ago and it has built more than 600,000 homes in 28 states. The Bloomfield Hills-based PulteGroup announced last year it is relocating its headquarters to Atlanta.
Bill Pulte is chief executive officer of Pulte Capital Pyartners LLC
The Brightmoor effort is being paid for by a mix of philanthropic, corporate and government money, including support from the DTE Energy, Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher, and Skillman foundations. Corporate backing comes from Ajax Paving Industries and Gilbert. Government support is coming from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.