Detroit razes 10,000th house through demo program

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — The city’s demolition program on Tuesday razed its 10,000th vacant building since Mayor Mike Duggan took office in 2014.

Shortly afterward, they demolished the house two doors down, too.

Contractors tore down 14097 Marlowe in the city’s Cerveny neighborhood in less than 20 minutes. The city has demolished fewer than 10 houses in the neighborhood since starting the blight busting campaign. Detroit Land Bank Authority spokesman Craig Fahle said Tuesday he expects the city will focus more heavily on the west side neighborhood in the immediate future.

Duggan, speaking before the milestone demolition began, said the city plans to raze 5,000 abandoned buildings this year. He said the city will take down another 6,000 in 2017.

“Nobody in America has begun to try to address blight the way we have,” he said.

The city now demolishes about 150 buildings a week. When Duggan took office, crews took down around 25 houses a week.

The demolitions have improved the quality of life to people on 10,000 blocks, Duggan said Tuesday.

Several people in surrounding houses gathered to watch the fire-damaged, rotting houses be torn down. None were sad to see them go.

“(This is for) folks who stayed in the city ... and had to watch the blight spread,” the mayor said. “The magnitude of the blight problem in this city is enormous.”

Charles Willamin, 73, said he’s lived in the Cerveny neighborhood for 45 years. Since the city started demolishing abandoned houses, he has seen less crime and drugs on his block not far from where the city worked Tuesday.

“It’s never a comfortable place (living near a vacant),” Willamin said. “You got music going all times of night, fighting, shooting...I’ve seen all of that in my neighborhood and it’s calming down now. You can sleep comfortably.”

Jimmy Jones, 65, lives across the street from 14097 Marlowe. He’s been looking at the blighted, vacant house for 20 years, he said.

“It’s a relief,” he said. “I’m happy. I’ve got grandkids who play out front.”

City officials estimate there are about 40,000 blighted buildings that need to be demolished in Detroit. Since Duggan started pushing to demolish houses, he said structure fires in the city have dropped by 25 percent. Property values in two-thirds of the city have also increased, he said.

“People are seeing value come back to this city.”

The demolitions spur housing renovations, Duggan said, pointing to examples within a few blocks of 14097 Marlowe.

The growing demolition program hasn’t been without fault.

The Duggan administration’s demolition program came under scrutiny last fall amid concerns over soaring costs and bidding practices. In May, the FBI’s Detroit office also acknowledged it’s investigating the program.

The land bank, city and building authority retained lawyers in May.

Detroit’s demolition costs went from an average of about $13,600 per house in 2014 to about $16,400 in 2015. The city said the rising prices were tied to new environmental safeguards. Costs now for the average residential demolition is about $12,300 per house.

Duggan said Tuesday the city will keep costs under $13,000 on average.

“It took a while to get the hang of this,” he said.

Recently, the U.S. Treasury and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority announced more funding has been directed toward Detroit’s blight fight. To date, the city has been awarded about $258 million for blight demolition.

In 2015, houses within 500 feet of a federal Hardest Hit Fund demolition saw value increase by about 4 percent.

Arthur Jemison, the city’s director of housing and revitalization, said in July the city will begin to target neighborhoods, such as Cerveny, for restoration projects to activate the vacant lots left by the house demolitions.

The city recently put out a request for proposals like one such project in the Fitzgerald neighborhood, where they want to renovate 100 vacant houses and establish parks, orchards and other greenspace on over 250 vacant lots.

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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau