Detroit's historic--but troubled--Brewster-Douglass homes meet the wrecking ball

Sep 4, 2013

The first Brewster-Douglass low-rises coming down
The first Brewster-Douglass low-rises coming down
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

 Detroit’s historic Brewster Douglass housing projects are coming down.

Bulldozers started with some of the low-rise complexes that dot the 18.5 acre site Wednesday. The gutted high-rises that have almost become part of the downtown Detroit skyline are slated to come down within a few months.

Brewster Douglass was the first federally-funded public housing project for African-Americans when it opened in 1935. Boxer Joe Louis, singer Diana Ross and fellow Supremes Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard all grew up there.

Some former residents say that for decades, it was a thriving, close-knit community. But at some point, it turned into a cluster of poverty, blight and urban decay.

And former Brewster-Douglass Residents Council President Rosanna Johnson says the site, vacant since 2008, had become too dangerous. She applauded the demolition.

“We need to show the community that there is hope!” Johnson said as she watched the first buildings come down. “I think our people have lost hope. And this is what we need.”

Johnson says she hopes to see mixed-income housing built here—and that it becomes a semblance of the community it once was.

The site’s future is unclear right now. But Detroit mayor Dave Bing says he expects the city will hear lots of offers.

“It’s 18 and a half acres of prime property,” said Bing of the land that stretches between Detroit's downtown and Midtown areas. “And I do believe, even before we put out a request for proposals, we will see a lot of our developers lining up to let us know what they think should go here.”

The demolition is being financed by a $6.5 million federal from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Officials expect full demolition of the projects will take well into next year.

This is part of Bing’s larger effort to demolish 10,000 by the end of his four-year term as mayor.

Bing says the city is on track to reach that goal.