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Published: Wednesday, 2/26/2014

Detroit mayor: Demolition of vacant homes to start

Duggan Duggan

DETROIT — Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said today that “strategic demolition” of some fire-damaged vacant homes will begin within 30 days.

The announcement came at the start of Duggan’s first State of the City address and the first such speech since Detroit was allowed to enter bankruptcy.

He said his administration and the City Council are both working to improve the city.

“The change has started and the change in Detroit is real,” he said.

Duggan said the demolition will be paid for using $20 million in an unused escrow fund earmarked for burned houses.

“If you drive through most of the neighborhoods today, you wouldn’t know there was a national recovery,” Duggan said in his evening address. “People in this community see parts of the country doing well and even parts of the city doing well and others are left behind.”

Duggan, a former medical center chief, was elected in November. His power is restricted while Detroit remains under state oversight, but blight removal and demolition of what could be 70,000 or more vacant houses and other buildings are under his control.

Detroit is going through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, and Duggan’s address came less than a week after state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr filed his plan to pay creditors while providing money for city services and improvements in the coming years.

Under a deal with Orr, Duggan has charge over financial matters relating to day-to-day functions of city government. But most of the power once exclusive to the mayor’s office now resides with Orr, who has complete control over all city finances, how much is spent and what the money is spent on.

Orr’s blueprint for Detroit’s restructuring and debt removal calls for the city to spend $1.5 billion over 10 years to remove blighted properties, upgrade public-safety equipment and technology and make other improvements.

Unlike his predecessors, Duggan will take on the monumental task of demolition with millions of dollars in focused support from the federal government and millions more set aside from bills the city won’t be paying to creditors during its historic bankruptcy.

About $500 million of the $1.5 billion in Orr’s plan would be used to knock down up to 450 decaying, abandoned properties each week. The U.S. government also announced in September that it would direct more than $100 million in grants to help Detroit tear down vacant buildings and spur job growth.

Orr has said Detroit should exit bankruptcy this year. His 18-month contract ends in the fall and control could return to elected officials, although a transition board could be put in place when the emergency manager leaves.

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