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Detroit seeks $250M in bond funding to speed up home demo program

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Mayor Mike Duggan made the appeal for removal of all blight citywide by 2025

An excavator sits at the site of a house demolition in Detroit. There’s dirt and fallen trees around the brick house, which has no windows or doors.
A house being demolished in Detroit.

Mayor Mike Duggan has made demolition of abandoned Detroit homes a cornerstone of his administration. That’s even more true after a new plan he released today.

Duggan outlined a proposal to Detroit City Council to remove the last vestiges of residential blight by 2025, which would require selling $250 million in city bonds. If approved by council, which has until December 17 to approve the language, it would go before voters as a ballot proposal in March 2020.

Most of the $265 million already spent on the initiative has been received through federal Hardest Hit funds, which are expected to be depleted sometime next year.

The city says the new proposal won’t raise taxes on Detroit residents. “The bonds would be repaid back over the next 30 years using existing tax revenue budgeted for debt retirement,” it wrote in a press release.

The city also says that the money would decrease the time of complete blight removal from 13 to five years—it’s demolished nearly 20,000 homes so far and has nearly that many left. A portion of the funds would be used to incentivize renovation of at least 1,000 homes that would otherwise be demolished.

Not everyone is on board with the proposal. City Council President Pro Tem Mary Sheffield expressed her skepticism in a statement to the Detroit Free Press:

We must have guarantees that Detroiters benefit from the use of their tax dollars and that the goal is to truly improve the quality of life of residents and not lead to another urban renewal which amounted to urban removal in the past. … While blight remediation and demolitions can have a positive effect on the community, we must be intentional with such large expenditures in an effort to eliminate the pipelines to blight.

The city’s demolition program has come under scrutiny of late. In April, federal prosecutors charged two former employees of Adamo Group, a contractor that’s worked with the city on its demolition program, with taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from subcontractors to secure favorable bids.

Other issues have included cost overruns that required a 60 day stoppage and a $5 million settlement, as well as using contaminated dirt with high concentrations of chloride as backfill.