40,000 of Detroit’s Buildings Could Be Torn Down

Detroit’s Blight Removal Task Force is urging the city to tear down thousands of vacant buildings

House Demolished
A house in Detroit is demolished in 1992 George Steinmetz/Corbis

Detroit’s Blight Removal Task Force issued an incredibly detailed report yesterday outlining how the city could tackle the huge numbers of abandoned buildings that dot the metropolitan area. The task force identified 40,077 structures that should be demolished as soon as possible. 

From the report’s summaries:

Because neighborhood structures make up 99.3 percent of the total blighted structures in Detroit, the Task Force spent most of its time examining this category. Neighborhood structures include all residential structures and commercial structures that are less than 25,000 square feet in lot size. Although the Task Force acknowledges many opportunities to stabilize or rehabilitate structures rather than remove them, we assume the majority of the 78,506 structures with blight indicators will likely need to be removed.

In addition to the tens of thousands of smaller structures, large industrial buildings that long ago stopped housing any kind of industry are on the chopping block. According to the Task Force report, five large blighted commercial and industrial buildings in "tipping-point" neighborhoods are of the highest demolition priority to the city. Neighborhoods with fewer blighted buildings will get the most attention at first, followed by areas that have many blighted buildings.

With all this demolition and deconstruction, there’s going to be a lot of junk left over, so the Task Force has proposed opening up two new recycling facilities for the high volume of construction waste they anticipate. 

Then there’s the money issue. The report estimates that it will cost $800 million to get rid of the blighted structures. 

Businessweek reports

While the city has already obtained some blight-reduction funding from federal and state sources, it still needs at least a further $400 million. (That doesn’t include the additional $1 billion or so Detroit will need to address commercial and industrial eyesores.) The report offers 16 specific recommendations to address the funding gap, including forcing banks to pay $15,000 in exchange for having a blighted property taken off their hands.

But what happens once the houses are gone? There are already over 100,000 vacant lots sprawling across the city, and the plan would add thousands more to that number. While the report doesn’t address how the city might shrink, it does state how the removal of buildings might be a boon for the city: 

With the scale of structure removal needed, the city will significantly increase the amount of permeable surface in the city. This will allow for more natural stormwater infiltration and will reduce some burden on the city storm sewers, with the added benefit of increasing the amount of open and green space. Additionally, with the elimination of structures in areas with repetitive flooding, the city is reducing the risk of future flood damage and claims.

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