The City of Detroit will have to restart the bidding process for some of the work, then, try to get approvals which can take more than 90 days. (Shutterstock photo)

A City plan to demolish 1,375 blighted homes hit a roadblock Tuesday when the Detroit City Council rejected contracts that will delay the razing of more than half of the properties. 

City Council approved contracts that will allow 680 demolitions to move forward, while halting various contracts delaying 695 others, according to the city’s Demolition Department. 

The contracts, 23 in total, would have allowed seven Detroit businesses to do the work. The contracts were worth a total of $30 million. Each contract dealt with about 60 properties. Five of the seven businesses are Black-owned. One of those Black-owned firms didn’t win approval for two contracts that it had hoped to finalize Tuesday. Another Black-owned firm lost one contract but kept another. 

Work will begin soon at the 680 approved demolitions, LaJuan Counts, director of the City’s Demolition Department, said in an email statement provided after the vote. “Neighbors in those areas should start to see work begin in early spring.” 

As a result of the rejected contracts, the City will have to restart the process for some companies to bid on the work, then, try to get various approvals. The process can take more than 90 days, Counts told City Council on Tuesday.

“We have residents living next to dangerous vacant homes that have been waiting years for relief, and we’re not going to stop until we deliver that relief,” Counts said in the email statement. 

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City officials didn’t specify which neighborhoods are impacted by the rejected contracts.

First wave of Proposal N demolitions 

The demolitions are the first wave in the City’s new voter-approved plan to wipe out 8,000 empty homes and secure another 8,000 for future rehab by 2025. In November, Detroit voters overwhelmingly backed the campaign, called Proposal N. The citywide effort is funded by $250 million in bonds borrowed from Wall Street investors and will be paid back through Detroit property tax revenue.

Tuesday’s vote highlights the ongoing conflict between some Council members and the City’s handling of the new demolition program. Several council members charge the program lacks transparency and that Council is too often given last-minute information about the deals. 

“This is really an ‘effed-up’ situation,” said Councilmember Janee Ayers, who voted against 10 of the contracts. “I don’t like being in a space where we are in the ninth hour, and I’m getting information that is coming up.”

Among the objections various Council members raised Tuesday was that one of the contractors had been suspended for 30 days last year by the City for illegally dumping potentially asbestos-contaminated materials at an earlier home demolition in Detroit. Another contractor recently changed State paperwork that gave the company a Detroit address rather than one in Lansing. A third contractor was suspended for 30 days by the City in January for not meeting the deadline to complete demolitions. 

Council members were not alone in their criticism. City of Detroit Ombudsman Bruce Simpson urged the Council to reject the contracts and lambasted the overall program. 

“From Day One, there’s been a lack of transparency as it relates to this particular program. There (are) several questions that have gone unanswered,” Simpson said. 

City officials defended the demolition program. The company suspended for dumping material that was potentially asbestos-contaminated was not a “malicious act,” said Counts, the City demolition director. City investigators ruled the illegal dumping was a one-time incident and a result of bad management on the site, which was quickly corrected, she told Council. 

The company that changed its address to Detroit didn’t mean the business had just moved to the city, an official from the City’s Office of Contracting and Procurement told Council.  Rather, the State paperwork listing the Lansing address was not intended to be the firm’s main office. The company has been operating in Detroit for at least several years, the official said.

How the various companies fared

The company that faced skepticism over whether it is a Detroit-based firm had all of seven of its contracts rejected Tuesday. The company, SC Environmental Services LLC, is not Black-owned. 

Two Black-owned firms lost work, too. Juniors Jr. Construction didn’t win approval for two  contracts, which means the firm won’t be doing any demolitions for the City this round. Another Black-owned business, Moss Co., had one contract denied but another approved

How Council members voted.

A total of 12 separate contracts didn’t win a majority of the eight Council members who voted Tuesday. Council President Brenda Jones voted against all of the contracts. President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield approved only one. Members Roy McCalister Jr. and André Spivey voted against the majority of the contracts. Council member Janeé Ayers voted no on four. Members Gabe Leland and James Tate voted against two. Council member Scott Benson approved all of them. Member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez didn’t attend Tuesday’s session. 

Public information 

To get more information about the city’s demolition plans, go to the City of Detroit Demolition Department’s website.  The site allows the public to type in an address to find any nearby demolitions. There is also a complete list of addresses planned to be demolished or secured

Louis Aguilar is BridgeDetroit’s senior reporter. He covered business and development for the Detroit News, and is a former reporter for the Washington Post.

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