State lawmaker cautions Detroit council on demo work after house vanishes

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News

Detroit — State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo is urging Detroit's City Council to carefully weigh whether more taxpayer funds should be allocated for demolition after a home her nonprofit was renovating was mysteriously razed.

Gay-Dagnogo, during Tuesday's formal session, said she was "perplexed" by the loss of the home on Minock that she'd hoped to gift to a needy family this holiday season. 

A house at 14567 Minock in Detroit belonging to state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo was demolished and removed without her knowing.

The Detroit Democrat, who opposes Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan's plan to put a $250 million bond proposal for voters in the spring to fund demolition, noted controversy surrounding the city's federally funded effort that's been the subject of local, state and federal probes. 

The Detroit News last week reported a lack of controls early in the program allowed contractors to name their own price for dirt in the federally-funded demolition program.

"I caution this body in moving too quickly on a demolition initiative that would cost the taxpayers more money," she said. "We have too many unanswered questions on the use of current dollars for demolition. I want to know how costs are established."

Gay-Dagnogo, founder of the Coalition to Integrate Technology and Education, said the razing of the house at 14567 Minock near Stoepel Park is a "huge mystery." The lawmaker is offering a $1,000 reward for information on the demolition. 

She and city officials agree there isn't a record of a demolition permit nor any effort to ensure utilities had been disconnected or gain environmental approvals.

Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit

Detroit assistant police chief David LeValley confirmed late Monday that the department has opened a criminal investigation into the incident. Gay-Dagnogo met with police on Saturday. 

Detroit Corporation Counsel Lawrence Garcia briefly addressed council Tuesday, stressing that the demolition "was not ordered, directed or funded by the city." Garcia said that the situation is "quite bizarre" and agreed "there was no paperwork for this one."

The incident, he said, remains under investigation of the Detroit police and because of that "there's not a lot we can say."

City officials, he said, "should remain largely silent while it's pending." 

"There's no need to short-circuit the normal process of the investigation," he said. "That's why not much is being said by the administration right now."

Gay-Dagnogo has said the house had undergone an investment of about $42,000 for a new roof and windows and other repairs. The nonprofit purchased the property for about $1,000 and the sale closed on July 25, 2018. 

But in mid-June, it sustained damage when an adjacent property owned by the city caught fire. The fire-damaged house at 14561 Minock, she said, was razed in July by the demolition firm Adamo Group. That work was fully completed on July 19, according to the city. 

Christian Hauser, an attorney for Adamo, said Monday that Adamo "had nothing to do with the demolition of the structure at 14567 Minock." 

Gay-Dagnogo said Tuesday that it cost $22,000 to tear down the other Minock house after it burned.

"That's a lot of money and a lot of taxpayer money," she said, noting that more investment is needed in senior home repair. "We need somebody to champion something for poor people who don't have any other way to get their home fixed."

The lawmaker also told council members Tuesday that the Detroit caucus is working to draft a resolution to ensure there's greater oversight of federal funds intended for home repair.

"Let's prevent blight on the front-end, as opposed to pay people to demolish houses, who have these contracts, on the back-end," she said.

Councilman James Tate, who represents the northwest Detroit district, pledged to Gay-Dagnogo that "we'll do whatever we can do to get to the bottom of this."

Since the fire, Gay-Dagnogo said her nonprofit and its partners ensured the house was secure and were seeking quotes to have repair work done. The city, she said, had set a compliance deadline of Oct. 14.

"We were working and getting quotes from different organizations to determine our best path forward after the fire," she said Monday. 

Gay-Dagnogo said a blight busting group went to the property last Thursday to do an assessment and provide a quote for the rehab work. That's when, she said, they "let us know the house was no longer there."

Gay-Dagnogo said she's since received calls and emails from others who contend they've experienced the same thing.

"What protocols are in place to prevent this and how do we determine if there are others out there that this has happened to as well," she said.

Council President Brenda Jones said she's submitted multiple questions to get answers about what happened, saying "it shocked me."

"It is a surprise to me and hopefully we will soon get some answers to what happened," Jones said.