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Wrecking ball is Detroit's latest hope for urban renewal

“Stay away.” “Scrappers will be shot.”

Signs like these are a common sight in neighborhoods all across Detroit, where more than 78,000 homes sit abandoned and falling apart.

Now, the Motor City is getting a $52 million boost to fight the blight with wrecking balls and dump trucks under a plan to demolish more than 4,000 vacant homes across the city.

“By eliminating the blight in a neighborhood, we increase the property values, give the folks an incentive to stay in their homes, and therefore maybe they won’t get into a foreclosure problem,” explains Scott Woosley, executive director of the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

With $100 million in federal funding from Troubled Asset Relief Program’s Hardest Hit Fund, officials are hoping the massive demolition project will reduce foreclosures and stabilize neighborhoods in five of Michigan’s largest cities.

“It brings our neighborhood down, our community down. It ain’t no community."

- Robert Couch, Detroit homeowner

More than 30 abandoned homes are on Robert Couch’s small street on the city’s west side. He says those properties have become magnets for squatters, scrappers, and criminals.

“It brings our neighborhood down, our community down," he told Fox News. "It ain’t no community. We tried to do what we can as neighbors, but neighbors can’t do it all by themselves.”

Abandoned and blighted homes lead to an increase in crime, depressed home values for surrounding properties, and strain community resources, according to Woosley.

For instance, he says, 60 percent of Detroit’s roughly 12,000 fires each year occur in abandoned properties.

“By taking those down, we’re taking that out of the equation," Woosley said. "The fire department doesn’t have to show up, they don’t have to expend the funds to put out the fires, and that’s a big plus, a big positive for the city. That’s a cost they don’t have to incur.”

The Motor City’s recent financial woes are no secret. The city is currently going through bankruptcy court to deal with the nearly $20 billion it owes to creditors.

The new blight removal program the largest in state history, and the first of its kind in the nation, according to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.

With so many abandoned homes across Detroit though, this pilot program’s projected goal of demolishing over 4,000 properties is just a small drop in the bucket. Officials estimate it would cost around $600 million to eliminate all of the blight throughout the city. 

But if this initiative works as well as expected, Woosley says the state will be able to ask for more funding to expand its efforts.

“We think we’re going to be able to transform those neighborhoods, tip them in the direction of increasing property values, decrease in crime rates, and just make it entirely better for the neighborhood.”

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