A new nonprofit aims to totally eliminate blight in Detroit

Jul 8, 2013

A new nonprofit is demolishing vacant homes (blight) in a northwest Detroit neighborhood.

The organization is called the Detroit Blight Authority, and is working on a project that encompasses all 14 blocks of the Brightmoor neighborhood.

According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, the Blight Authority already collected nearly 100,000 pounds of trash that had been illegally dumped in the neighborhood. Brightmoor encompasses an area of four square miles in Detroit.

Bill Pulte IV is the founder and chairman of the Detroit Blight Authority. It doesn't seem like the group is doing anything particularly innovative -- lots of organizations are trying to improve safety and quality of life in Detroit. But according to the Free Press, Pulte's nonprofit has bigger goals than most groups that raze buildings in city neighborhoods.

It's objective is the most ambitious: "total blight elimination" across all 139 square miles of Detroit," Pulte says.

Pulte brings a unique combination of family connections, financial backing, hustle and bustle acumen that is leading some influential figures to believe his Blight Authority could succeed in taking a big bite out of blight.

Its success may well depend on Pulte's ability to leverage his organization's two privately financed demonstration projects to obtain the hundreds of millions in government money necessary to fight blight on a large scale. In particular, he's eyeing a portion of the $100 million in unspent federal "Hardest Hit Fund" money that was released to Michigan last month as well as the $500 million that Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr recently proposed for eliminating blight.

Why did the Blight Authority start its project in Brightmoor?

This is the Detroit neighborhood Brightmoor, nicknamed 'Blightmoor'
This is the Detroit neighborhood Brightmoor, nicknamed 'Blightmoor'
Credit Lucy Perkins

  • In 2006 there were 7,737 homes in Brightmoor. 80% of the houses were built before 1970, and most of them are between 80 and 90 years old now.
  • Children living in poverty make up 40.4% of Brightmoor's population, which is higher than the city average (34.8%) and way higher than the statewide numbers (13.9%). 
  • In 2006, the reported population living in Brightmoor was 19,837 people. That dropped to 12,836 by 2010.

These statistics are from 2006 and were released by City Connect Detroit, a nonprofit that works to solve local problems in the city by offering consulting and supporting initiatives for change. 

A Free Press Story in 2011 depicted the area as crime-ridden. It was known for having a high rate of homicides (within 18 city blocks, 15 reported murders took place within a six-month period in 2010).

Drug dealers and prostitutes were seen operating in the open, in daylight hours, on numerous occasions by a Free Press reporter and photographer. But it's not as bad as it used to be, residents say. Deprived of the cover of plentiful abandoned houses, many drug dealers have moved on.

That's one of Pulte's biggest goals -- safety. When there's less abandoned buildings for crime and other dangerous activity, the neighborhood becomes a safer place.

Back in 2011, the City of Detroit was already working on demolishing houses to make Brightmoor safer, but it was an expensive process.

Pulte said that a typical city demolition costs around $10,000 per house, but the Blight Authority averages at just over $4,500 for each building.

Brightmoor is one of the stops on a creditors tour that emergency manager Kevyn Orr will lead on Wednesday. The tour (by city bus) is meant to impress upon creditors how dire the situation in  Detroit really is. 

-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom