In Detroit, a nonprofit fights urban blight

The nonprofit Detroit Blight Authority is helping to pay to tear down abandoned buildings and clear away debris to make the city cleaner and safer.

Daniel Mears/Detroit News/AP/File
Bill Pulte, chairman of the nonprofit Detroit Blight Authority and CEO of Pulte Capital Partners, walks through a Detroit neighborhood. The authority is working with the city to tear down blighted buildings to make neighborhoods cleaner and safer. So far, about 6,700 abandoned houses out of more than 30,000 in the city have been torn down.

Detroit is partnering with a new nonprofit group to step up the city's efforts to tear down blighted buildings and clean up neighborhoods.

Mayor Dave Bing announced the city's new partnership with the Detroit Blight Authority during his State of the City address Feb. 13. He said the group already has begun tearing down buildings and clearing away debris as part of a pilot project in a 10-block area across from a school near the city's Eastern Market area.

"They are recycling over 80 percent of the debris collected and re-seeding the site to prevent the growth of weeds," Mayor Bing said in his remarks. "The elimination of blight gives ... students a safer route to school. And it means a cleaner and safer neighborhood."

Bing's office didn't disclose many details of the agreement with the nonprofit, which paid for demolitions in the pilot project. He and the group's chairman, Bill Pulte, visited the site across from Detroit Edison Public School Academy on Feb. 14.

"For many years, children from this neighborhood have had to walk by blocks of boarded-up homes and piles of brush and dangerous debris," Bing said in a statement.

Mr. Pulte is a grandson of the founder of homebuilder PulteGroup Inc., based in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., which isn't connected to the nonprofit group. The Kresge Foundation and DTE Energy Co. are among the Detroit Blight Authority's partners.

In creating the plan to clean up areas with the work of the Detroit Blight Authority, Pulte worked with his grandfather, and the two devised a demolition plan based on Pulte Homes' process for large-scale land clearing.

"Our goal is revitalizing communities block-by-block," Pulte said.

The group also wants to cut the price of demolitions, which Bing's office said can cost $9,500 per home, and they said the pilot project cleared homes at a cost of about $5,000 each. The pilot project's total cost wasn't released.

The city faces a $327 million budget deficit, cash flow shortages, and the specter that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder may soon appoint an emergency manager to oversee Detroit's finances. Amid the city's ongoing financial troubles, however, Bing has made tearing down dangerous and abandoned structures a priority.

On Feb. 13, Bing said his administration is well on its way to making good on his promise to demolish 10,000 of the city's more than 30,000 vacant and abandoned houses by the end of his term. So far, about 6,700 houses have been torn down.

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