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Topic: Demolition Does it help or hurt?

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El Supremo

Detroit is razing thousands of homes. It wont fix much.
Posted on: July 6, 2017 Written by: Joel Kurth Topic: Detroit Journalism Cooperative

Aggressive demolition campaigns may sound good to voters, but wont help Detroit, argues Jason Hackworth, a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto.

An Ohio native, Hackworth has studied extensively studied Detroits abandonment, finding that no other Rust Belt city in the United States has experienced such wide-scale demolition.

Hackworth argues that, while large-scale urban renewal projects and highway construction from 1949 to 1974 are blamed for destroying neighborhoods, so-called ad hoc demolition in the past 50 years has done far more damage.

In Detroit, nearly 13,500 acres the equivalent of 21 square miles, or about 1/7th of the city have lost at least 50 percent of their housing to demolition since 1970, according to Hackworth. That compares to about 1,000 acres that lost half their homes during urban renewal.

He argues that demolition works best when its followed by programs to invest or build in neighborhoods. So hes pessimistic about the chances of success for Mayor Mike Duggans latest demolition blitz, arguing in papers such as Why theres No Detroit in Canada that racial animosities and hostility from state lawmakers lower the citys comeback chances.

Bridge Magazine recently interviewed Hackworth by phone. His answers are edited for length and clarity.

Jason Hackworth
University of Toronto professor Jason Hackworth says demolitions have done more to harm Detroit than urban renewal and highway construction.

Bridge: Mayor Duggan has spent a lot of time and money measuring his success on the number of homes hes demolished. So did his predecessor, Dave Bing. Is Detroit any better off?

Jason Hackworth: I dont think so. But (Duggan) is responding like every other big city mayor with lots of vacancies. Hes going where the money is. Its really a pragmatic decision.

My guess is that hed prefer there be money to follow (demolitions) to build things, but there just isnt. Theres scads of federal money available for demolition and nothing else. I think Duggan, like other mayors, is trying to thread this needle of making it look like (hes) doing something without having the resources to do it.

There are a number of studies that evaluate the impact of demolition on a citys fortunes. They show fairly clearly that having a vacant house next to a house that is occupied really drags down the value of the occupied house. But they also found that having a vacant lot also drags down the value, just at a slower rate.

Cities like Detroit and Cleveland that accelerated demolitions since the 1970s perhaps slowed some of the hemorrhage, but only marginally so.

So no, (Detroit) is not better, but I dont place blame at the feet of Duggan or anyone else. Its a much bigger problem. Its the lack of money from state and federal governments to do anything positive and the belief that the free market will evolve from these vacant spaces, which theyve never really done.

There has been some suggestion, even in your own research, that demolition begets demolitions.

As bad as urban renewal was in the 1960s, there was money to build things. Since the 1970s, cities have been orphaned by the state and federal governments. And demolition money is a last-ditch effort to slow the bleeding of disinvestment but it just accelerates decline. Vacant homes are seen as discouraging. So are vacant lots. So it starts snowballing and you get more demolitions.

Youve written about a belief that demolition is the larval form of regeneration. What does your research show?

Theres a belief in market fundamentalism, that something good will come from demolitions, but its largely not in places like city hall in Detroit or Cleveland. Its in Lansing and Columbus and other state capitals where these policies are forged and demolition money is allocated.

Its from Republican-controlled, rural-dominated state governments, where a caricature form of urban policy gets forged by politicians who not only arent thinking about this at a nuanced level but have a real hostility to cities.

Are you saying demolition only works in concert with other programs? That, in and of itself, it cant help much?

I dont want to be overly critical. It would be foolish to suggest that some houses dont have to come down. Some are so run down theyre uninhabitable and others have been so stripped that youd have to invest $10,000 to $15,000 in an environment where you can only sell it for $10,000.

There is a sensible argument to be made that demolition can be part of some kind of redevelopment, but it is never by itself generated any market outcomes.

You researched Detroit and found that no other city has lost more land mass to demolition since 1970. What role does housing stock play?

Theres some fantastic, really well nice built homes in the center of the city. But a lot of the city is built as bungalow, wood-frame construction that burns very easily (and) deteriorates very rapidly if left alone.

Its not as much of an issue in other cities that grew more slowly because they didnt experience the kind of boom Detroit did or were older and couldnt build outward as quickly.

I do think (housing stock is) a component of why theres such vast vacancy in Detroit.

So if demolitions cant solve all problems does that mean they shouldnt be done?

No, I just think they need to be part of a larger solution. If theyre going to do them, the ideal case would be part of a larger redevelopment.

If I was the mayor of Detroit or Cleveland, I probably wouldnt turn the money down either because I do think constituents living on streets with vacant houses have legitimate gripes and lives probably do improve if you demolish the house next door that is being used a drug den.

But my critique is this notion is that its going to do anything more.

Do you have an alternate theory about what would have happened, 50 years ago, if Detroit and other Rust Belt cities hadnt pursued aggressive demolition strategies?

I dont know if theres an alternate theory but I would say other cities have experienced similar levels of de-industrialization throughout the world and they dont look like Detroit.

Part of it is quality of construction. Part of it is isolation from state government. But I do think these issues are more acute in a place that is more African American. The effort that whites in Detroit have historically made to stay away from the black majority has been extraordinary. And I think it affects the level of disinvestment and why its so much more acute there than it is elsewhere in country where theres more mixed population. The exit reaction was far more severe.

So youre not all-in on Detroits comeback?

No. I think the downtown, Corktown, Midtown is a fundamentally different place than it was even five years ago and its increasing in population because of mostly white people who used to live in the suburbs.

But thats almost completely irrelevant to most of the rest of the city. The rest of the city continues disintegrating. And I dont think of the two as being related. If anything, I think thats why there continues to be an out-migration of black residents: This belief that theres never going to be a connection (between downtown and the neighborhoods).
Post Sat Jan 20, 2018 6:13 am 
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El Supremo

Chris Carpenter
Fri, 08/11/2017 - 1:36am
Typical liberal professor - criticize what is being done but don't have a workable alternative solution. Tearing down old houses full of lead paint, asbestos and other hazard helps prevent them being used as drug houses or by gangs who want to rape people walking by. Empty lots are much safer.

Detroit Journalism Cooperative
Bulldoze away: Some Detroit neighborhoods need thinning out
Posted on: July 6, 2017 Written by: Joel Kurth Topic: Detroit Journalism Cooperative

Widespread home demolition not only can stabilize Detroit neighborhoods, but make them safer and lead to revitalization, argues urban planning scholar Alan Mallach.

Mallach has studied Detroit extensively and wrote an influential paper in 2012, Laying the Groundwork for Change, that helped provide the rationale for the ongoing, federally funded demolition blitz in Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac, Grand Rapids and other cities nationwide.

Mallach also lobbied federal Treasury officials to allow cities to use money from the Hardest Hit Fund established in 2010 to help homeowners following the 2008 housing crash for demolitions. He pushed for a targeted approach, arguing that blighted homes are health and safety hazards and empty lots are easier to maintain.

Mallach wrote the paper as a fellow for the Brookings Institute. Hes now a senior fellow at the Flint-based Center for Community Progress, a national nonprofit that advocates for investment in vacant spaces.

Bridge Magazine spoke with him by phone. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Alan Mallach
Urban policy scholar Alan Mallach says that, in many cases, vacant lots are better than vacant homes.

Bridge: Lets get down to it. You are a proponent of widescale demolitions.

Mallach: Yes. I saw a piece recently where I was referred to as a cheerleader for demolitions. I admit that I have played an important role in getting this whole thing started but Ive never said demolition in and of itself is going to solve anyones problems. You cant get around the fact that demolition, unfortunately in a lot of the cases, is necessary. But youve got to do more. Its got to be part of a larger strategy.

Is that whats happening in Detroit, a demolition-only strategy?

Its not a demolition-only strategy. It certainly looks like its a demolition-heavy reality. To be fair to Detroit, the citys planning people are trying to figure out more proactive, affirmative strategies for a number of key areas in the strategy such as for the Fitzgerald neighborhood that clearly tries to go beyond demolition and go toward a more proactive strategy to stabilize that area. [Editors note: The Fitzgerald project is a $4 million project plans to landscape 192 vacant lots and rehab 115 vacant homes in the northwest Detroit neighborhood.]

The jury is out on where this is going and how successful it will be. But at least they are thinking about this stuff One of the question marks is does the city have the fiscal resources and is there market demand to get substantial stuff to happen in other areas?

How should this be done and how closely is Detroit hewing to that model?

Ive spent a lot of time in the past year asking the question: What is it that leads a neighborhood to revive? The most significant factor is the existence of a pretty intact physical texture of the neighborhood. If a neighborhood gets carved up by too many vacancies, at some point, its ability to revive becomes seriously compromised.

Demolition can really start to work against a neighborhoods prospects of revival. Does that mean you shouldnt demolish? The answer is no. The problem that cities like Detroit have to confront is that a lot of these houses simply will not find enough people to live in them in a short enough period to save the house. Thats a reality.

You really need to think about which neighborhood are you going to focus on for revitalization and which areas are you essentially going to thin out. In Detroit, its clear theres already a lot of areas that are already significantly thinned out.

The biggest thing you should do is think about future prospects for different areas for revival. If (the neighborhood is) close to Midtown its going to have a better shot than if its five miles away.

Your research has found that 178,000 homes were demolished in Detroit from 1970 to 2000. Theres been tens of thousands more since. Thats a staggering number. Is the city better off because of it?

This is where it gets complicated. Who knows. I think you could certainly ask that question. But the fact is, between 1950 when it peaked in population at nearly 2 million and today, Detroit has lost 1.3 million people.

The theory that if those houses had been left standing, people would have moved into them and Detroit wouldnt have lost population, frankly, its not tenable. People were moving out of Detroit for all kinds of reasons. Not because their houses were being demolished from under them.

Imagine if the demolitions didnt happen. Imagine Detroit with a half-million structures today, with 300,000 of them empty. What would that city look like? Im not sure thats not even worse than what Detroit currently looks like.

Thats the crux of the problem: These (Rust Belt) cities have lost hundreds of thousands of households.

Detroit has spent tens of millions of dollars on demolitions in the past few years. But some research suggests they havent even kept pace with the number of houses that have fallen into disrepair over that time and now need to be demolished. Is this just a vicious cycle?

It is a vicious cycle, and the only way you break the vicious cycle is by changing the basic economics of demand.

The reason houses are still being abandoned in Detroit is because people either cant maintain them or people dont want them. The reasons for that may have to do with poverty or because people who have any choice dont want to live in neighborhoods and just walk away from properties. Unless you change those dynamics of poverty and market demand, youre not going to change the underlying picture.

At some point, you may get down to a Detroit which has finally shrunk to the point where its stable, but Im not sure that point will necessarily come.

Can the comeback of downtown and Midtown can have any stabilizing impact on the neighborhoods?

Depends on the neighborhood. Whats happening in downtown and Midtown is neat I dont underestimate it but it has an incremental effect moving outward. Its not likely to have much of an impact on a neighborhood three to five miles away. You have some emerging pockets in an area like Corktown or West Village, but huge parts of the city are not affected by downtown and Midtown.

But there has already been a ripple effect in areas like the North End. Why cant progress just keep spreading from one neighborhood to the next?

The question is how much demand actually exists for the citys product. Which in this case is houses. How much demand is there to actually generate a revival?

Given the huge size of Detroit and the extent to which its shrunk, whatever ripples you see moving out from the central core are going to be very limited.

There will be some. But its not going to be constant growth, demand, revival and rehab at any kind of fast pace. The number of people who want to buy a house in a Detroit neighborhood just isnt there. The sheer scale is daunting.
Post Sat Jan 20, 2018 6:22 am 
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El Supremo

Around 2006 The Mott Foundation sponsored a think session featuring Alan Mallach and representatives from Richmond (Blooms in Richmond) that featured development plans that worked. Instead the downtown/uptown groups ran with development plans already in the works that focused only on downtown Flint.

Ill conceived rehabilitation programs spent amounts that sometimes exceeded $100,00 on homes that had originally been poorly constructed and were barely maintained. Dan Kildees's think tank associated with the Land Bank described homes not worth recycling in a document, Cowboy Economy. The city was negligent in inspecting and monitoring this rehab process.
Tragically, some of these rehabbed homes ended up demolished.

The control of crucial organizations and contracts were corruptly given to political cronies that often raided the finances. As a result the community and the taxpayers were cheated of the honest services of the government often times forced to bear the impact of paying back these misused funds without realizing the promised benefits.
Post Sat Jan 20, 2018 6:58 am 
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El Supremo

Hastily designed housing plans have been disastrous for Flint. Budget cuts meant there were delays in construction permits and inspections. Trained employees in Community and Economic Development were replaced by employees from other departments. HUD failed to do their oversight sometimes even claiming they were forbidden to do so by their superiors.

Salem Housing eliminated their housing programs as a result of failed rehabilitation and a failure to adhere to HUD rules and their hiring of unqualified workers. There were at least two complaints to the OIG.

Channel 12 News usually focused on Bennie Spence in UNiversity Park demanding completion of University Park as a black subdivision because the whites had their subdivisions. Only one realty company was allowed to sell in University Park and some owners there said some mortgages came from out of state at high interest rates. Construction faults were not dealt with by the builders and that has resulted in homes that suffer from mold and other issues. There has been a large number of foreclosures resulting in homes being sold for extremely low prices for these homes that were market rate starting around $150,000
Post Sat Jan 20, 2018 7:19 am 
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El Supremo

Engineers and cost center managers that worked on University Park described costs not made public related to fixing the infrastructure. They said cost overruns were rampant.The city also never dealt with the Burnash concrete crushing site along the east side of the development.

Then there were the arsenic worries. Anxious to build, dirt that was forbidden to be moved was transported off the site, some to the county. Arguments on how to evaluate these tests led to an effort to diminish the high scores and a bitter lawsuit involving Chris Davenport, who was in the midst of these discussions. The U of M White building had high arsenic levels that were remediated in the construction period.

Smith Village was delayed by the citizens group. There were property owners that wanted excessive payments for their lands. The 5th ward council person, Carolyn Sims, voted down a developer because the CCD wanted another. The group then rejected a second developer and asked for the first developer. The group's leader filed a federal complaint demanding the project be completed and publicly (and illegally) endorsed Dayne Walling for Mayor.
Post Sat Jan 20, 2018 7:37 am 
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El Supremo

Flint had made an agreement with HUD to avoid a payback on Smith Village. Williams Street had the infrastructure rebuilt and the street was planned that future construction would not have driveways along the street to accommodate the children and pedestrian traffic to the school and Saginaw Street.

Under Walling and Eason new plant were created. Construction now had driveways on Williams and curbs were torn up and infrastructure for Consumers and other utilities disrupted. A development company, in which neither partner had a builders license replaced Metro Development, who had a history of successful development. The plan evolved into pre built by Champion in Indiana an later allegation of contractors who were unpaid and a lot of negative media, Vandalism made hiring security a necessity. Flint residents were angered by the large amounts of money "left on the table" after homes that cost over $170,000 to build were being sold for far less, sometimes under $40,000. The Weaver administration is still selling the remaining homes and there has been more vandalism. At least two of these new homes have been foreclosed.
Post Sat Jan 20, 2018 7:55 am 
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El Supremo

Realty Trac

1425 N Saginaw St is a miscellaneous (commercial) located in Flint, MI 48503. This property features 16,988 sq ft lot.

For the surrounding community of Flint, MI 48503, the nearby schools include Doyle Ryder School, Northwestern High School and Dort School. The overall crime risk for this area is very high with 47 criminal and sex offenders residing within 1 mile. The natural disaster risk for this area includes very low earthquake risk, high tornado risk, and minimal flood risk.

This site was purchased by Better Builders (Fred Speed) about the time the Federal Enterprise Zone and Renaissance zone were announced. The sign indicated that the building was to be converted to condos.

Norstar, the developer selected by Flint Housing Commission to build mixed income apartments and relocate some residents from the troubled Atherton East Public Housing . To me it seems ironic that we move people from a high crime area into another area rated very high crime rate. Also Doyle Ryder was ranked as a D + school and the High School as a failure. Taxpayer money is being used to demolish the current building and some of the press releases have been inaccurate. The City has allegedly pledged over $280,000 CDBG and other sources state the demo money comes from MSHDA.
Post Sat Jan 20, 2018 11:58 am 
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