Over the past year, Pontiac has cut the number of blighted properties on its dangerous buildings list in half — from 300 in May of 2017 to 120 today.
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In 2012, the city began a new demolition program to bring down the 960 blighted residential properties scattered throughout its limits. With a lack of funds to do so as the city found itself under emergency management and state oversight of its budget, the administration turned to federal funding to launch the program. By the end of this year, Pontiac will have received more than $4.9 million in Community Block Grant funding, mostly used to demolish homes and buildings. A new sidewalk program however is planned for those funds this year as well, as the city looks to figure out what’s next for neighborhood improvement once the final 120 buildings are down.
“That’s our ideal, that we might have this done in two or three more years. I’m proud to say we’re chipping away at it. I know we do have these 120 houses to demolish, but that’s a slim selection for the short amount of time that’s passed since we started this,” Jane Bias-DiSessa, Pontiac’s deputy mayor said.
All of the 120 properties left on the city’s dangerous buildings list have been condemned. Seven of those are commercial buildings and two are apartment complexes. The city demolished 82 houses in 2017. As for this year, 48 blighted properties have already seen the wrecking ball while another 32 are slated for demolition.
Property owners and the Michigan Land Bank also play a role in demolishing blighted property in Pontiac, Bias-Disessa said. The city is currently applying for $892,638 in Community Block Grant funding for 2018. About $341,000 of that will be used for demolitions while another $356,000 will be used on the new sidewalk rehabilitation program. “It’s my hope that now, we can start building. We can start doing projects that will improve people’s everyday lives. It’s been almost 10-years since we’ve done anything with our sidewalks, it’s long overdue,” Bias-DiSessa said.
The city is working on conjunction with Oakland University and the Healthy Pontiac, We Can! Coalition under the Oakland County Health Division on a Complete Streets plan to make the city more walkable. Pontiac plans to use data collected from the Complete Streets project sidewalk assessment to move forward with its planning, according to Bias-DiSessa. The demolition program hasn’t been without its hiccups, as one demolition company working with the city closed down earlier this year, setting the program back slightly as those houses were transferred to a different contractor. “It’s not hard to find contractors to do the work, but it depends. This year there was a tremendous amount of houses coming down in Detroit which many of the larger companies in the area took on,” Bias-DiSessa said. To avoid slow-downs in the future, the city is now bringing on more contractors to complete batches of demolitions throughout in the year. There’s also a new nonprofit group that’s looking to save some of the historic homes on the dangerous buildings list.
Across from the General Motors Global Propulsion Systems facility on Glenwood Avenue, more than 200 historic homes built from 1919 to 1926 still stand. The newly formed GM Modern Housing Neighborhood Association, led by Pontiac-native Dayne Thomas, has committed to restoring the 40 homes, which were subsequently taken off the dangerous buildings list this year. Vacant land opens opportunities
With the finish line in sight, Bias-DiSessa said city administration is excited to look into what can be done with all the new, vacant lots in Pontiac. “So now it’s about what comes next, I’ve looked at some studies to see what other cities have done with their vacant land, but we haven’t decided anything concrete yet,” Bias-DiSessa said. Several community gardens have popped up in neighborhoods throughout the city while other residents have taken to simply keeping the lots clean once the demolition is complete. “What we’ve done, it’s just amazing. I credit Mayor Deirdre Waterman for that and my staff, I don’t do this alone. This program, unlike other programs, touches all parts of our government. It’s never as simple as one my think.”
Here’s what Pontiac’s spent on demolitions since 2012 utilizing Community Block Grant Funding:
2012 – $509,203
2013 – $757,729
2014 – $759,889
2015 – $747,355
2016 – $581,526
2017 – $725,000
2018 – $341,000
By Natalie Broda firstname.lastname@example.org