Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vacant Homes Stoke Woes in Detroit

MetroWayne County

December 26, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Vacant homes stoke woes in Detroit

Fed report says Detroit billed owners for $16M but could only collect $100,000
By Christine MacDonald The Detroit News17Comments Detroit — As Mayor Dave Bing relaunches his effort to reshape the city, a new federal report is illustrating the magnitude of the city's problems with vacant properties.

The city recently sent $16 million in bills to owners of houses that it boarded up or demolished. It recovered only $100,000 of that, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office report on vacancy nationwide.

And as of May, there was a backlog of about 8,000 dangerous buildings approved for demolition. That number is now closer to 7,300, city officials said.

Either way, "that's probably a low number," said Connie Walker, a 52-year-old insurance agent who has lived on Kentfield on the city's northwest side since the mid-1970s.

She estimates on her street alone between Six Mile and Seven Mile, as many as 25 houses need to be razed.

"Squatters are invading our neighborhood," she said. "We are alone. No one is helping us."

City officials say demolitions are a priority. Nearly 4,100 structures have been demolished so far in Detroit since Bing launched an effort in 2010 to raze 10,000 homes by the end of his term in 2013.

"The abandoned-building demolition program's goal of knocking down 10,000 structures remains one of Mayor Bing's top priorities in spite of the city's financial issues," said Chief of Staff Kirk Lewis in a statement.

Other findings of the report released in November:
The city owns 40,000 vacant lots and another roughly 5,000 properties with structures on them.

"One Detroit official stated that the city's budget lacks sufficient resources to maintain the vacant properties for which the city itself has assumed ownership up to its own building standards," the report reads.

The city spends $25 per property mowing for each of its 45,000 properties. The city disputed the figure, saying it's closer to $16 per property.

City officials estimated the cost of boarding up 6,000 structures since June 2010 at $1.4 million.

The number of vacant properties in Detroit more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. In 2000, vacant properties made up 10 percent of the housing stock and in 2010 it jumped to 23 percent. That is similar to the jump Cleveland saw from 11 percent to 19 percent in the same time period.

The report's authors noted the challenges ahead for the Detroit Works Project, Bing's effort to reshape the city, which recently relaunched its citizen outreach effort.

"Also, some city officials we spoke with noted that politically, targeting resources to limited areas can be difficult. Local government officials in Detroit told us they plan on using their upcoming market research to bolster their arguments for targeting funds to fewer, smaller areas of the city instead of giving small amounts of funds to all neighborhoods."

The Detroit Works effort, which seeks long-term solutions about land use and service delivery, began last year. But its launch was marred by chaotic public meetings and confusion about its goals. So Bing and foundations that are backing the effort have begun anew with a public engagement campaign.

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