Duggan plans ‘board up brigades’ for vacant homes

Christine Ferretti, and Jonathan Oosting

Detroit is gearing up for a new effort Mayor Mike Duggan said Wednesday will ensure the remaining 25,000 vacant houses in the city will be secured within two years.

During a 50-minute address at the annual Mackinac Policy Conference, Duggan said the city has demolished about 12,000 vacant homes in Detroit over the last three years under its blight elimination effort. But the city, he said “can’t get to all of them fast enough.”

In August, he said, the city will roll out “board up brigades” to get the vacant homes secured within the next two years.

The city, the mayor said, plans to have about 12,000 boarded per year. About 5,000 of the houses are expected to be rehabilitated and 9,000 demolished.

“I think we had to go to the boarding strategy if we were going to get it done in less than five years. That was just the reality, but I’m confident we can get 12,000 houses boarded, so we’ll be able to get through everything in the next two years,” he said after the speech, adding the cost is pegged around $400 per house.

“It’s important to say to people we knew we weren’t going to get to their house for five years. We can’t just leave it open.”

City Council President Brenda Jones said she too wants the houses boarded, but she remains concerned over demolition contracts.

The program, primarily funded with federal dollars, is the subject of a federal criminal investigation and other reviews after the council and others raised concern over rising costs and bidding practices.

“While I want all of the houses boarded up, I cannot support the demolition contracts until the federal investigation has been completed. … Therefore I have been a no vote on all the demolition contracts, but I do support the board-up of the homes,” Jones said.

Duggan spent the majority of his Wednesday address sharing his redevelopment strategy for the city, a vision he said is guided by ensure its “one city for all of us.”

The mayor said his administration is evolving from getting streetlights turned on, vacant lots cut and buses running on time. Now, in the final year of his first term, Duggan said the focus has shifted to “what kind of a city do we want to be.”

“We have a chance to plan growth for the first time in half a century,” he said. “Every day we get up and say ‘What’s the vision that’s going to drive this?’ It’s one city for all of us. That defines our planning strategy.”

The mayor is running for re-election against seven other candidates, with State Sen. Coleman Young II being the most high-profile challenger.

Duggan opened his address with a history lesson on planning decisions made in the 1940s and 1950s and government regulations that he said were “rooted in racial discrimination.” He noted hundreds of thousands of people migrated to the city for war-time jobs, resulting in the rapid expansion of production plants and segregated housing with no thought of long-term planning.

“This was our history,” he said, “and it’s something we still have to overcome.”

With increasing development and the slowest population slide in decades, Duggan’s team is working on plans for the next 40 to 50 years.

The mayor ticked off guiding principles for redeveloping Detroit “without wiping out those who have been here.”

The city, he said, is welcoming to all, won’t support developments that move residents out, is fighting against economic segregation and wants those who have stayed to have an active voice in new projects.

“You can see what we are trying to do. There is going to be a lot of conversation in Detroit about equity and inclusiveness,” Duggan said. “We are not going to move out Detroiters so other people can move in.”

He also touted his efforts to create “20-minute neighborhoods,” move jobs and businesses closer to city neighborhoods and blight removal.

The city, Duggan said, is working to preserve and renovate existing buildings and stressed a policy adopted in partnership with City Council to ensure at least 20 percent of units in housing developments are affordable.

“If you want to be in an area where people of all incomes, jobs and backgrounds live together, Detroit is the place to go,” he said.