A blighted house in Detroit’s District 7 on the city’s west side. (BridgeDetroit file photo by Bryce Huffman)

Detroit is more than halfway through tearing down 8,048 properties included in the demolition pipeline for the city’s voter-approved $250 million blight elimination program. 

Demolition Director LaJuan Counts updated a City Council committee Monday on her department’s progress toward razing abandoned properties and stabilizing homes that don’t pose a safety risk. Counts said major progress has been made on residential demolitions – though required sidewalk repairs are slowing some projects. The work is being paid for through bonds sold by the city after voters approved Proposal N in 2020, with $110 million spent so far. 

Data provided by the city shows 4,749 properties have been demolished at a pace of 188 per month this year. That’s nearly 60 percent of residential properties in the demolition pipeline. Another 2,221 have contracts to perform the work and 499 properties have approved contracts but haven’t been given the green light from Detroit’s Demolition Department to get started. 

Residents can view completed demolitions through an online Neighborhood Improvement Tracker or Proposal N dashboard

Counts said 730 contracts will require extensions due to material shortages. Proposal N contractors are required to repair sidewalk sections damaged during renovation or demolition work. Those contractors are competing for concrete with the city, which put out other contracts to repair sidewalks across Detroit. 

Counts said the city originally targeted 6,000 properties for preservation, which dropped to  4,000 after some properties that were sold by the Detroit Land Bank Authority. There are 2,689 salvageable properties currently in the pipeline for stabilization, including 1,751 that have been completed. 

Counts said she often hears questions about rehabilitating properties versus tearing them down. Counts said renovation is “always an option,” but most properties require significant investment to prevent demolition. 

Demolition costs can range from $12 per square foot to $20 per square foot, Counts said, but  renovation costs range between $175 per square foot and $800 per square foot. 

“We would love to be able to save every property that we can, but the reality is a lot of these properties are so far gone,” Counts said. “The amount of investment that it would take is just not a feasible step for a lot of people who would be interested in investing in these properties.”

Counts also provided an update on cleanup of a smaller group of commercial properties that are not paid for through the bond fund. Only 15% in that pipeline have been demolished. There are 346 total commercial properties slated to be torn down, including 183 awaiting environmental due diligence work. Fifty-two commercial properties have been demolished.  

The city has invoiced 31 commercial property owners for the cost of demolition, totalling $2.6 million. Only $943,959 has been recovered so far. Property owners are given 30 days to reimburse the city, after which an enforcement process is triggered that can result in a lawsuit. 

Counts did not provide an update on progress with hiring Detroit-based companies to perform the work. An online dashboard that previously tracked hiring metrics wasn’t working on Tuesday. 

A Neighborhood Improvement Plan negotiated between Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration and the City Council creates a preference for companies that commit to train and employ Detroit residents and set a goal of having more than half of the work performed by Detroit-based contractors.

The mayor’s office has billed the bond-funded program as the city’s best option to keep blight under control after razing more than 15,000 houses with $265 million in federal dollars.

BridgeDetroit reported earlier this year that an advisory board tasked with oversight of the bond spending and tracking benchmarks in the Neighborhood Improvement Plan hadn’t been meeting publicly until March. 

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