wikimedia user InverseHypercube /

Detroit has itself a brand new resident.

Liana Aghajanian is the latest winner for Detroit’s Write A House program.

She was chosen from more than 200 entries and will move into a totally rehabilitated home just north of Hamtramck for a two-year residency.

The Tricycle Collective is working to help keep families in their homes through the tax foreclosure crisis in Detroit.
Michele Oberholtzer

Wayne County is currently in the midst of the largest municipal property auction in United States history.

Some 30,000 properties are on the auction block, and around 85% of the properties facing foreclosure are in Detroit.

Michele Oberholtzer watched the 2014 Wayne County Tax Foreclosure and saw that many of those properties sold to investors and speculators were occupied homes.

For decades, volunteers have been stepping up to battle the blight in Detroit
flickr user Charlie Wollborg /

Since Detroit emerged from its history-making bankruptcy, much of the city’s attention has been focused on blight.

The city is making efforts to reduce blight by knocking down or rehabilitating derelict buildings, and by finding creative uses for the growing amount of empty land in Detroit’s 140 square miles.

At last count, we’re up to 23.4 square miles of vacant land, more than the size of the entire island of Manhattan.

But for John George, the battle against blight began in 1988.

Jason Lorenz / City of Flint

Along the mix of downtown buildings and neighborhoods filled with small single family homes, the city of Flint also has its share of mobile home parks.  

The trailer parks are the usual collection of mobile homes laid out in neat lines. But in some cases, it’s not so neat.

Flint has torn down thousands of old, dilapidated homes in the name of blight elimination.  The city is now turning its attention to its handful of trailer parks.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A major blight elimination program is winding down in Flint.

Around 1700 dilapidated homes have been torn down during the past few years. The program is funded with nearly $23 million in grant funding.

Christina Kelly is with the Genesee County Land Bank. She says the before and after effect on neighborhoods is something to see.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Like many Michigan cities, Saginaw has been struggling to deal with blight and crime. At least in Saginaw, the struggle appears to be paying off.

A study released today finds major crimes (arson, aggravated assault, criminal sexual conduct, homicide, robbery, burglary, larceny-theft and motor vehicle theft) decreased 54% between 2005 and 2014. The number is expected to be lower this year. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Highland Park officials say they want to board up more blighted homes with steel, rather than wood.

Steel is really good at keeping out squatters. Problem is, it's also really expensive.

The city started using steel shutters on a handful of houses after an 11-year-old girl was raped in December in an abandoned house.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint is facing a BIG bill to clean up thousands of blighted properties.

A third of Flint properties are blighted. It’s estimated it will cost roughly $100 million during the next five years to fix the problem.

That’s according to Flint’s Blight Elimination Framework. 

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The state of Michigan is handing out $75 million to help a dozen cities deal with blighted homes.    $50 million is going to Detroit.

Mary Townley is with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.    She says the federal grant dollars are intended to remove dilapidated homes and help neighborhoods.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

This Week in Review, Jack Lessenberry and Rina Miller discuss who’ll be more hurt by low voter turnout on Tuesday, more Congressional race surprises, and a Detroit developer who dropped $3.1 million on some of the city's worst properties.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

A Detroit developer who just bought a massive chunk of city land says he wants to help community groups revitalize their own neighborhoods.

Herb Strather bought a package of more than 6000 properties from the Wayne County tax foreclosure auction for just over $3 million.

That “blight bundle” was actually meant to discourage bidders from buying up huge numbers of cheap, distressed properties.

But Strather says the land was still at risk of going to “outside” investors, and he bid to prevent that.

screen grab from HDNet clip

The city of Detroit plans to acquire 77 vacant properties from Detroit Public Schools.

In return, the city will forgive the district's $11,600,000 in debt.  From the city's press release:

Detroit residents met Monday night for a discussion on how to move forward after the elimination of Citizens District Councils (CDCs).

CDCs have been around since the Blighted Area Rehabilitation Act of 1945 granted Michigan cities the right to acquire blighted properties using the power of eminent domain.

MCM Management Corp.

Detroit is in the middle of one of the most ambitious demolition campaigns the nation has ever seen, tearing down about 200 houses every week.

Many of the homes being razed are in neighborhoods where people still live. So Detroit officials sat down before the blitz to come up with some new regulations designed to keep people safe from dust, and from hazardous materials that could be in that dust – like lead, or asbestos.

Vacant lot in Detroit.
University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment / Flickr

DETROIT - Plans call for allowing some Detroit residents to buy vacant lots next to their properties for $100.

The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press report City Council on Tuesday approved the transfer of about 10,000 parcels of vacant city land to the Detroit Land Bank following an agreement with state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr.

Council had earlier rejected a proposed transfer of more than four times that number of parcels, saying the plans were too broad. With Tuesday's action, the Detroit Land Bank can begin selling lots to residents. The effort is known as the side lot program.

The city wants to sell vacant lots to get them back onto tax rolls. Hundreds of city residents are already taking care of vacant lots near their homes for planting and gardening.

TIF mismanagement can lead to blight.


Tax increment financing, or TIF, is a flexible tool for downtown development authority boards aiming to encourage private investment and increase the taxable value of their municipality.

TIFs enable portions of a city’s regular property tax to be used for economic development, without a vote from taxpayers. There are eight types of authorities in Michigan that can engage in this type of financing.

David Bieri is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan.

Bieri explains the good and bad uses of TIFs. In the early 2000s, DDAs from Kalamazoo to Detroit addressed blight through brownfield remitigation. On the other hand, Bieri cites Bloomfield Park, the unfinished mini-city in Bloomfield Hills, as an example of TIFs gone bad: Blight was created rather than mitigated. 

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit is looking for plans to re-develop the former Brewster-Wheeler recreation center.

The center is best known as the place where Detroit boxing legends Joe Louis got their start in the sport.

It also served as an important community hub for generations of Detroiters who lived in and around the recently-demolished Brewster-Douglass housing projects.

But it’s fallen into disrepair since it closed in 2006, and was recently added to the city’s demolition list.

Now Mayor Mike Duggan is making a final push to re-develop it instead.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

A non-profit group in Flint hopes salvaging parts of some of the city’s blighted homes will help salvage the lives of some of Flint’s most in-need residents.

Lynette Delgado is with the B-Light Restoration Center. She says they are working with private property owners to salvage bits and pieces of homes to be demolished. She says they’re training local homeless and other at-risk individuals to remove architectural features of blighted homes.

Fight Blight and Spur Revival in Flint campaign /

Tackling the issue of blight in urban communities is incredibly challenging.

Recently, the city of Flint, with the help of the Genesee County Land Bank, has torn down 600 properties in its effort to demolish more than 1,500 blighted homes in the city.

It’s part of the Michigan Blight Elimination plan, with support from the Hardest Hit federal grant fund.

Doug Weiland, executive director of Genesee County Land Bank, joined us on Stateside to talk about the plan’s priority and progress.

Meanwhile, some people are taking a very personal approach to dealing with blight in Flint.

There’s a crowdfunding campaign going on right now that hopes to raise $10,000 to tear down a single crumbling home on Parkbelt Drive. 

via SER Metro

Wayne County officials say a large project proves that building deconstruction is becoming a viable alternative to demolition.

Deconstruction is the process of carefully taking apart abandoned properties, and salvaging as many materials from them as possible.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is expanding his program to seize houses that violate the city’s nuisance abatement laws—and this time, he’s going after drug houses.

On Tuesday, Duggan announced an initiative to seize and auction off homes that have been raided twice for drug activity.

Duggan says more than 300 homeowners have already been put on notice—and that starting next week, their neighbors will start getting notices in the form of postcards, too.

There are over 43,000 pictures in the interactive from The New York Times.
Screen shot of NYT interactive

I timed myself and it took me a minute and 21 seconds to scroll through the images of Detroit's blight. Initially, I didn't even read any of the analysis that The New York Times provided, I just scrolled. 

The Times has done several interactive pieces on blight in Detroit. There's been a wealth of data since the Detroit Blight Removal Task Force Plan was published.

This one really makes you realize how vast the city's housing problem actually is.

Their analysis breaks blight up geographically with different anecdotes and facts. Here are two examples:

7 Mile Road:

While most of the properties on the foreclosure list were residential, about 5 percent were sites of former businesses, of which a majority were vacant lots or unoccupied structures. Many were formerly gas stations, auto body shops and car washes. 

Lenox Street:

Ronald Ford Jr. says he has struggled to find work as a laborer and to pay his bills, let alone the $7,000 in property taxes that he now owes. His family bought the house in 1969, and his mother made the final mortgage payment years ago. But he said they stopped paying the taxes after she grew ill and moved into a nursing facility.  

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Bob Jagendorf / Flickr


As the city of Detroit swiftly works its way through bankruptcy court there are some bright spots on the horizon. The state of Michigan, foundations and corporations are contributing millions of dollars to shore up city pensions and protect art held by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Mayor Mike Duggan is making strides to alleviate blight across the city. However, even in a best case scenario, what issues and challenges will the city continue to face even after the bankruptcy proceedings conclude?

Jennifer White, host of All Things Considered, speaks with Michigan State University Economist Eric Scorsone about the challenges facing the city of Detroit and the key systemic issues that the city must address.

Scorsone emphasizes that although there has been some recovery in the city, the challenges of the high unemployment rate, the big differences in the Detroit labor market when it comes to earnings of city residents compared to non-residents, upgrading the skill levels of city residents and the creation of jobs are issues that no one individual will be able to resolve alone, and will require cooperation from many agencies and non-profit organizations.

According to Scorsone, blight removal is an important step, but it is not necessarily the final solution. There needs to be major changes when it comes to land designated for certain uses such as housing, and stabilizing certain neighborhoods is imperative to the city’s future health. 

Listen to the full interview above.

--Omar Saadeh

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

This week Michigan Radio and the Detroit Journalism Cooperative are looking at how the city is functioning under bankruptcy. One of the biggest problems facing Detroit is the huge number of abandoned houses, buildings, and vacant lots. Here's a look at what’s changed in the six months since Mayor Mike Duggan took office.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Flint’s newest church has an unusual mission.

Its goal is to save the neighborhood that surrounds it.

Community Impact Church held its first Sunday service yesterday in a formally abandoned church. The church is surrounded by abandoned homes, blight, and vacant lots filled with weeds.

Pastor Corey James says his Allen Park-based ministry decided to set up in one of Flint’s more distressed northside neighborhoods for a reason: To help people rebuild their neighborhood.

When it comes to Detroit, this actually may be one of the most exciting weeks since Henry Ford began paying people $5 a day a century ago.

Detroit is a mess. A blighted, bankrupt troubled mess. Everyone knows and has known that for a long time.

The good news is that there are now plans in motion by people in power to do something about it.  

Today, the result of a massive, detailed survey of the city, something never before attempted, is being released to the public – together with a concrete plan to clean it up.

They are calling it “Every Neighborhood Has a Future, and it Doesn’t Include Blight.”

This isn’t being unveiled by a couple of urban studies professors or second-string bureaucrats.

Mayor Mike Duggan and emergency manager Kevyn Orr are solidly behind this plan – as are three of the most-respected people in the city:

  • Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans czar who has been buying an astonishing amount of land downtown;
  • The dignified and deeply respected Glenda Price, who turned around Marygrove College, heads a foundation for Detroit Public Schools, and serves on a million boards;
  • Plus Linda Smith, who runs the highly-regarded civic group U-Snap-Bac.

Those three headed a blight removal task force who, as part of their work, presided over a project to document, categorize, and map every parcel of land in Detroit – every one.

Then they came up with a concrete and tangible plan to do something about it.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Workers removed some of the plywood covering up a house in the Osborn neighborhood on Sunday to allow potential buyers to check out one of the houses the city will put up for auction.

Saturday, people visited available houses in the Boston-Edison neighborhood.

Detroit owns 16,000 properties. Some of them are houses in good enough condition to sell.

Bidding starts at $1,000, but the buyers have to bring the property up to code and either live in it or rent it to someone.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The Detroit City Council has agreed to transfer more than 16,000 city owned properties to Detroit’s land bank authority.

The transfer allows Mayor Mike Duggan’s ambitious blight eradication efforts to move forward.

Duggan wants to use the non-profit land bank as a key tool in the fight against blight.


The city of Detroit has launched an effort to fill some of its vacant homes with new residents – an online auction site for city-owned properties.  

There are 15 houses listed on the site now. The plan is for the Detroit Land Bank Authority to start auctioning off one home a day, starting May 5.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan says this is part of the city “moving aggressively” to deal with blight.

Duggan says the idea is to get the homes fixed up, and people living in them, as soon as possible.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit has started posting legal notices on 79 abandoned homes in one city neighborhood, warning homeowners to clean up the property--or risk a lawsuit, and the city seizing the home.

The effort in the west side neighborhood near Marygrove College was announced Wednesday afternoon by Mayor Mike Duggan, in what he called a "bold experiment" to fight blight.

It will work like this: once a notice is posted, homeowners have 72 hours to contact the city and arrange to sign a consent agreement. It will stipulate that the homeowner clean up the property, and move someone into the house within 60 days.

If that doesn't happen, the city can sue to have the Detroit Land Bank Authority seize the house. The Land Bank will then re-sell properties it deems "salvageable" at auction.

“When you leave your house abandoned, it is a nuisance to the neighborhood," Duggan said. "And you cannot legally leave your property in a way that’s a nuisance.

"I'm going to give every single person when we sue them the choice—either sign the court order to get it fixed up and occupied, or we’re going to take title.”

Duggan said it will be "fascinating" to see how the program plays out in the Marygrove neighborhood effort plays out over the next 90 days--but that plans are already in the works to expand it to other neighborhoods.

Duggan said represents a shift away from the "mindless demolition" approach to blight eradication--though many homes that are simply unsalvageable will have to be demolished. “If we take down the houses that can’t be saved, and we sell what’s left…I think people will value that," Duggan said.

Lola Holton, a 39-year resident of the neighborhood, said she's ready to see "results."

"I'm very, very excited about having community back," Holton said. "That's what we need. We've lost that. 

"Not only the restoration and taking boards down, but putting families in these houses. To build community."