Detroit City Council reverses course on demolition contracts

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
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Detroit — City Council on Tuesday approved 11 contracts to raze hundreds of blighted homes with funds from Detroit's neighborhood revitalization bond a week after it first rejected them. 

The reconsideration came after members deadlocked 4-4 last week, turning down half of the agreements in a package of 23 overall valued at $30 million. The contracts cover the removal of the first wave of 1,380 blighted houses under the program. 

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez voted in favor of the contracts after being absent last week. Meanwhile, Councilman Roy McCalister flipped his vote to yes and Councilwoman Janee Ayers voted no, rather than supporting the contracts as she did last week. 

This is a broken rear deck and outbuilding behind 6427 Northfield, which is next to 6435 Northfleld (not pictured), which is on the list of the first 1,380 homes that are expected to be demolished beginning this spring.

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James Tate, Scott Benson and Gabe Leland also voted yes.

President Brenda Jones, Pro Tem Mary Sheffield and member Andre Spivey maintained their no votes, resulting in a 5-4 vote to approve the contracts. 

Benson, who represents Detroit's District 3, made the request to bring the demolition agreements back, noting if they weren't approved it would mean 180 blighted houses in his district would remain standing. 

Benson said district residents were "begging and imploring me to take another shot at this." He argued to colleagues Tuesday that the houses are havens for rape and murder.

"We are paying with our lives in the city of Detroit," he said. "Our women, our children, our young boys."

McCalister said he switched his position because he doesn't want residents to feel unsafe or as if they aren't being heard.

"We don't want to have it where people will say 'oh my God, look at that' and not want to come into the city of Detroit," he said. 

Council members cast their original votes last Tuesday just after Detroit's ombudsman provided findings from an investigation that found four out of the seven companies involved in the first batch of work for the $250 million blight bond effort had been disciplined by the city in the past 18 months for demolition-related offenses. 

Another company, S.C. Environmental, switched its registered address last month from Lansing to Detroit, ombudsman Bruce Simpson told council members last week, raising questions over whether it was in fact city-based.

Jones stressed Tuesday that she had to take into account the reports, including the investigative memorandum from Simpson "as well as do our due diligence."

"I have done that on the contracts that I vote no on," she said. "I have not received any new information regarding the Proposal N contracts. That's why I will stand by my no vote from last week."

The revitalization bond — Proposal N, as in neighborhoods — was approved by a majority of city voters in November. The plan aims to tear down about 8,000 blighted houses and rehabilitate 8,000 more. 

The contracts revisited were awarded to S.C. Environmental as well as Moss Company, Juniors Jr and RDC Construction.

Several of the companies addressed council during public comment, urging for the vote to be reconsidered. 

Nick Koster, president of S.C. Environmental, told council members that the company has paid corporate income taxes to the city since 2014 and, since 2018, they have been filed with its Detroit address.

In December 2019, he said, the firm was accepted into Detroit’s demolition program and razed 100 residential structures across the city “safely, compliantly and efficiently … and without violation or discipline.”

Turning down the firm’s contracts last week, he said, delayed the demolition of 418 blighted homes.

“Please let us do this work for you,” he said. “We’ll do it safely, efficiently and compliantly, and we will make you proud.”

Robert Delicata, president of RDC, added his company is city-based and headquartered and its workforce is entirely Detroiters.

“At this point, it’s not about me. It’s about employees that live in the city of Detroit,” he said. “Last week, those jobs were taken away from them. They need that job. I’m here asking for help to help them provide for their families.”

Duggan announced in January seven companies — five of which are Black-owned, he said — were selected for the initial demolition work. The companies were selected from 180 competitive bids. Duggan promised that more than 51% of the contracts awarded under Proposal N would go to Detroit companies. 

The mayor, in response to the council's Tuesday vote, said: "All's well that ends well."

The Duggan administration has given conflicting statements on whether demolitions could proceed without City Council's full support. 

Detroit's chief procurement officer, Boysie Jackson, told the City Council earlier in February that the contracts were tied together based on the capacity of each firm. If one is voted down, "it affects all of the contracts," he said. 

However, Detroit demolition director LaJuan Counts said last week that her department would immediately move forward with the 680 properties that the council did approve. 

Counts acknowledged last week that some of the firms had been cited, but stressed there are a range of violations from a basic letter of discipline, meant to redirect a company that certain actions are "not acceptable," all the way up to removal from the program.

Jackson defended the administration's selection of the companies and noted all seven have committed to hiring Detroiters and have a workforce that's more than 51% city workers. 

Prior to last week's vote, the contracts already had been put off amid objections from Jones, who argued the city's procurement office failed to disclose hiring and recruitment figures for Detroiters. 

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