Milwaukee required old houses to be slowly dismantled, not demolished — until backlog began growing

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Milwaukee’s rule requiring old, dilapidated houses to be slowly deconstructed, instead of quickly demolished, is being suspended over concerns about a growing backlog of blighted city-owned properties.

The Common Council on Monday voted 15-0 to freeze that deconstruction ordinance, which took effect in January 2018.

The ordinance applies to houses and duplexes built before 1930, and to homes designated as historic.

A deconstructed building is systematically taken apart, with most of its materials recycled instead of being buried in a landfill — benefiting the environment.

Also, deconstruction helps create jobs. The longer deconstruction process requires more workers than demolition.

But the costs of deconstructing a building can be double that of simply razing it.

As a result, the number of old, dilapidated homes owned by the city because of property tax foreclosure is growing.

Of nearly 500 city-owned houses slated for demolition, only five were deconstructed in 2018, according to the Department of Neighborhood Services.

The department struggled to get reasonable bids from contractors, said Tom Mishefske, neighborhood services commissioner.

That’s led to more blighted properties throughout Milwaukee’s central city.

Nearly 350 of those houses are located on the city’s north side, in districts represented by Ald. Russell Stamper, Ald. Milele Coggs and Ald. Khalif Rainey.

The council’s vote on Monday amends the deconstruction ordinance to allow demolition of houses, including those that are privately owned.

That measure also requires DNS to spend at least $1.2 million on deconstruction, while creating workshops to help train private sector deconstruction contractors.

Ald. Robert Bauman, who sponsored the original deconstruction ordinance, supported the changes.

But Bauman also said the city needs more time to help develop a market for materials recycled from deconstructed houses.

Selling those materials helps reduce the higher cost of deconstruction.

Tom Daykin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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