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Although it’s generally easier to tear a house down than build one, things get complicated when teardowns number in the tens of thousands. That’s the way things stand in Detroit, which faces a reverse housing crisis of epic proportions: With a dwindling population — just 700,000 residents live there today, compared with nearly two million in the boom years after WW II — abandoned and derelict houses have depressed property values, provided refuge for criminals, and fueled thousands of arson fires each year. City officials have tried to pick away at the backlog, but managed to tear down only about 7,200 homes in the past three years, leaving more than 30,000 slated for demolition.
In February, however, the city got some unexpected help from a new nonprofit agency called the Detroit Blight Authority. Demolition contractors hired by the DBA — with funding from the Kresge Foundation — completely cleared 288 lots in a 10-block area of the city’s Eastern Market District in a mere 10 days.