Making a strike against the blight - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Making a strike against the blight

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(11/11/13) - In less than two years, two Mid-Michigan cities and communities close to them will look dramatically different.

As we've been reporting for several months, Michigan received millions in federal money to fight blight. Flint and Saginaw are two of the targeted areas.

The program is now one month along.

This is the largest residential blight elimination effort in Flint's history. There are more than $20 million to be spent, more than 1,600 homes to come down - mostly in Flint, but also in other parts of Genesee County.

Saginaw will receive $11.2 million.

It was an almost silent morning outside Mollie Wellington's home in Flint, when ABC12 stopped by. On this day, Wellington's isolation is interrupted.

"That's ok, I can't put up with the noise. As long as they getting rid of the houses, hey, I don't have a problem with that," she said.

Five doors down from Wellington, a WT Stevens crew is working at the corner of Chevrolet and Raskob on the city's west side.

"We'll be working through the winter and through the summer as well," said Rhonda Grayer, W.T. Stevens, president.

Genesee County Land Bank Executive Director Doug Weiland says Flint based W.T. Stevens is the first to secure demolition work during the area's $20 million blight blitz.

"We've bid out the first 14 demolitions of homes," he said.

Almost exactly one month after officials gathered on Barth to kick off the huge project, a lot of work still needs to be done.

Pre-inspections determine if hazardous materials need to be removed, then all the electric, gas, water and sewer lines need to be cut and plugged.

"It takes several months to get everything in order and ramp up," Weiland said.

Weiland says workers are concentrating on chunks of properties now.

"And they'll be bid out probably the first part of January and by the end of January, we'll expect to have the demo contractors in the field doing a fairly large list of properties - probably 50-100 on each list," he said.

The millions of dollars made available will be carefully tracked in Genesee County, in Saginaw County and in the three other participating Michigan communities.

W.T. Stevens and other companies will have to produce receipts and other documentation. The Land Bank will then pay them and send its own paperwork to the state for reimbursement.

"If we make a mistake, we don't get paid," Weiland said. "Nobody has given us a $20 million pot of money."

The Michigan State Housing Development Authority, or MSHDA, oversees Michigan's entire $100 million to make sure the federal money is used correctly.

"This is one of many modules that we have rolled out and we know the type of compliance that they expect and are confident the partnership that we've built will allow us to be successful," said Michele Wildman, MHSDA Director of Special Programs.

Saginaw County Chief Building Inspector John Stemple says the goal in the city of Saginaw is 950 homes. The city has plenty of financial resources to meet that goal.

"$11.2 million is a lot of money to manage and there are a lot of opportunities to make mistakes," Stemple said.

Mistakes - like the ones made back in 2008 in the city's abandoned home demolition program. That's when Saginaw overpaid a contractor for demolition work and an ABC12 News report showed the city paid for concrete removal at some demolition sites - work that was never done.

Stemple has overseen the demolition program since those problems were discovered. Stemple and Shellene Petrowski of the Saginaw County Land Bank say the process they have set up will prevent that from happening again.

"It's a lot to organize," Petrowski said.

"You have to follow a lot of state and federal regulations," Stemple  said.

The city has already knocked down six homes through the federal program. Here's how the process is supposed to work.

The first step is acquiring the property. In the case of a home at 3722 Fulton, the house was already owned by the Saginaw County Treasurer's office, so the land bank purchased it for $1. A title company would be paid if a search was needed. In this case, it was not.

"Then it would instantly go over to AKT Peerless for an environmental survey," Petrowski said.

That survey cost about $477.

"Once the acquisition process is completed, we can submit for reimbursement of those particular costs before the demolition even begins," Petrowski said.

Interim City Manager Tim Morales actually ran the excavator that started taking down the 1,000 square foot home.

Those costs add up quickly. Structure demolition - $1,850. Concrete removal - nearly $1,400, and nearly $1,900 for asbestos abatement, curb work, debris and fence removal and seeding. Total demolition cost - $5,109. The money starts flowing back to the contractor a short time later.

"It starts moving when they send in an invoice and they have completed with the work, so they call us for an inspection, we go and check the property to make sure everything is correct, review their invoice to make sure they are billing for the right amount, and we cut a check at that point," Stemple said.

Another inspection to check to make sure all asbestos was removed is done at a cost of about $150.

Total cost of the demolition of 3722 Fulton - $5,737.50. That's the lowest among the four houses that contractors have been paid for to this point. The highest - $11,689. Making it four down, 946 to go.

"It's our goal to make sure we spend the public's dollars appropriately and we are good stewards of those funds," Stemple said.

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