Detroit’s demolition program under fire for lack of diversity

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Detroit’s blight remediation effort has been fueled by more than $148 million in federal dollars but a Free Press analysis shows that only 26% of the work has gone to minority-owned companies and among them, only one black-owned company has received a substantial slice of the nation’s largest federally funded demolition program.
In a city such as Detroit, where the population is more than 79 percent black, critics and some officials argue there are dozens of minority business owners who can do the job but are being shut out of consideration. In total, just 16 percent of the federal Hardest Hit Fund money disbursed for the demolition program has gone to black-owned firms.
In contrast, some states, such as Tennessee, South Carolina and Indiana, have put measures in place to promote more diversity among HHF-funded work.
Detroit’s demolition program is dominated by two large companies, Adamo and Homrich, which have received the bulk of the dollars thus far. The companies have earned $40 million and $32 million, respectively— or more than $72 million combined.
According to a Free Press analysis of public demolition records:
As of June 6, 10,361 demolitions totaling more than $148 million have been completed by about 20 contractors. City officials say 26 percent — or roughly 2,800 demolitions —have been awarded to minority-owned companies. Of that figure, about 16 percent — or around 1,700 demolitions — have been completed by 8 black-owned companies, totaling more than $24 million. One company, Rickman Enterprise Group, has been awarded most of that figure, receiving more than $14.1 million.
Since 2015, when $10.4 million was awarded to black contractors, there’s been a precipitous drop in the number of contracts awarded to black-owned firms, with $5.7 million being awarded in 2016 and $5.8 million in 2017.
Of 10 contractors currently pre-qualified and allowed to participate in the Detroit Land Bank’s demolition program, only two are minority-owned companies — DMC Consultants and Rickman Enterprise Group. DMC Consultants, an Asian-owned company, according to its website and state business license information, has done 1,163 demolitions totaling more than $16.6 million. Rickman has performed 895 demolitions.
Of the 527 demolitions performed by nine companies in 2018, only 24 were completed by two black-owned companies.
The Michigan Minority Contractors Association said there are dozens of minority-owned companies in the city, 28 of which are members of the organization. “It’s egregious,” Jason Cole, former executive director of the Detroit chapter, said of the low rate of participation. “At the end of the day, they (the city) started with good intentions but they didn’t necessarily complete it. Sixteen percent is concerning for folks because we have people — we have contractors in this demolition space.” Deb Taitt, the former spokesperson of the Detroit-based Inner City Black Wreckers Association and owner of Smash Wrecking, said the fight for access to contracts has been going on for years.
Taitt recalled when contractors within the organization threatened to encircle the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center years ago, in an effort to demand more city contracts. The Free Press wrote about the planned demonstration in September 1994. “Honestly I’m tired of this,” Taitt said. “It’s not just demolition, it’s every aspect of the contracting process in Detroit. You go down the line and tell me how many black contractors have contracts doing anything. Instead of setting all these barriers up, create a program for smaller contractors so they can participate and grow. It is a systemic issue. People see a few of us doing this work but they don’t really understand it’s not just doing the work, then we have to fight to keep the work.”
MORE ON THIS STORY AT Detroit Free Press

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