Many in Detroit Concerned About Plans to Tear Down 40,000 Buildings

Recommendations by a task force convened by the Obama administration on dealing with blight in Detroit has many questioning how it will affect Black residents.

Posted: 05/30/2014 01:37 PM EDT

A task force that recommended that Detroit tear down some 40,000 buildings has people questioning how the plan, if implemented, might affect the neighborhoods across that largely African-American city.

The task force, which was established by the Obama administration, produced an exhaustive review of the staggering problem of abandon buildings and homes in Detroit. The task force recommended that the city spend more than $850 million to tear down the buildings in an effort to reduce blight.

The task force estimated that cleaning up the entire city’s blight, including industrial structures, will cost about $2 billion.

Detroit is a city that has seen its population dwindle from nearly two million people in 1950 to roughly 700,000 residents currently. As a result, the city is filled with blighted neighborhoods, abandoned buildings and homes.

However, as Detroit seeks to remake itself as it emerges from bankruptcy proceedings, many local leaders, clergy and elected officials are concerned about whether the reshaping and upgrading of the city will include the wide swath of working-class neighborhoods.

"There is a good deal of concern on the part of a lot of people that there might well be displacement of Black people who have lived in their homes, in their neighborhoods, for years,” said the Rev. David A. Bullock, the pastor of the Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church and head of Change Agent Consortium, a civil rights organization in Detroit, speaking with BET.com.

"There is concern among many in Detroit that there may well be a reconfiguration that leaves the city of Detroit looking like Washington, D.C., or Brooklyn or what Harlem is becoming,” Bullock said.

Carron Pinkins, an attorney who is active politically in Detroit, said that many local residents feel strongly that the city's blight should be dealt with. However, there are concerns among many people that some areas of the city will be cleaned and refurbished and that longtime residents will be priced out of those areas.

"There is a feeling that there will be a focus on some areas of the city at the expense of others and that people will be affected by a certain level of gentrification," said Pinkins in an interview with BET.com. "People are concerned that they will no longer be able to afford living in their neighborhoods."

A candidate for state representative from a portion of the city’s east side, Pinkins said, "I have spoken with many people in this area and there is a feeling that this cleanup will occur quicker in some areas than in others."

Nonetheless, city officials and members of the task force insist that something needs to be done to address Detroit’s blight crisis. The task force’s report revealed that about 30 percent of the city’s parcels of land are vacant, including more than 90 percent of the parcels owned by the city.

"Blight is a cancer," the report’s chairs said. "Blight sucks the soul out of anyone who gets near it, let alone those who are unfortunate enough to live with it all around them. Blight is radioactive. It is contagious. Blight serves as a venue that attracts criminals and crime. It is a magnet for arsonists."

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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(Photo: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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