Fighting urban blight in Mid-Michigan - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Fighting urban blight in Mid-Michigan

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(11/09/12) - In Flint and Saginaw, the fight against urban blight takes up time and financial resources. It also takes a toll of a different kind on residents in city neighborhoods.

Both Flint and Saginaw have programs in place, and federal funding to help out.

So far, hundreds of vacant houses have been torn down, but there are thousands of other eyesores still standing.

"I have no homeowners insurance. None. Because I can't get it because of these houses," said Flint resident Susan Parra.

Houses like the broken down and abandoned one next to Parra's home.

"That is the front porch. It has been collapsed in. My bedroom is right there so I can hear any noise in case they try to burn it," she said.

A walk down Parra's neighborhood in the east side of Flint feels like a visit to an artillery range - houses that look like they've been bombed - with Susan living in middle.

She's one of the few homeowners still left, and they're outnumbered by the vacant houses. She counts 8 vacant on her block alone, and they're more than just eyesores - they're hangouts for criminals.

"You can have those who sell drugs and prostitution. It is unsafe for kids to walk by," said David Solis, Flint's community development administrator.

Solis' job calls for him to knock down hundreds of these derelict houses - work that has started on Flint's east side

"We need to do something," he said. "We need to address it and bring it down."

Solis says it cost $8-10,000 to knock down each one. Six hundred homes are set to be demolished between now and March. Crews will concentrate on the area around Pierson Road and Saginaw Street.

"Next week, you will see bulldozers with crews coming down here to tear them down," Solis said.

Urban blight is a problem plaguing most cities - including Saginaw.

"Personally, I think it is a shame it has gotten like this. But our population is almost a half of what it was 40 years ago, so when you have mass flight like this, you are going to have vacant homes," said Bill Ernat, Interim Dir of Development in Saginaw.

Ernat says, for the last three years, Saginaw has used federal funding from the neighborhood stabilization program to target three neighborhoods. In that time, hundreds of abandoned homes have come down.

"We'd like to get some of these neighborhoods really cleaned up. You have got so many in this block, you would like them to retain some value of their home," he said.

Demolition isn't the only tactic being used.

Margie Dallas and her girls moved to Saginaw's east side this year. On one side, a vacant house, the other - an empty lot.

"When I bought my house, I was hoping they were going to tear that house down because it looked like it was about to fall," Dallas said. "But once they started fixing it and the house got complete, my property tax value went up."

Dallas' new neighbor is a family of five. The city tore down the vacant house next door and built a new one.

"It's brand new. You can't beat brand new," said new homeowner Tracy Ellis.

But even with new houses going into some neighborhoods, too many vacant homes- some filled with trash - still stand.

Some families have just given up.

"It sucks to drive by home into this neighborhood," Parra said.

Parra says she's moving out of Flint. Not just because of the vacant houses, but because of what's left once they are torn down - nothing.

"This is going to be the country, it's going to be, there are not going to be no houses left," she said.

The city of Flint has $1.9 million budgeted to tear down abandon homes. They have until next March to use the money.

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