Elrick investigates city's demolition program - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Elrick investigates city's demolition program after house should have been knocked down months ago

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(WJBK) -

Demolition in Detroit is no laughing matter - thousands of abandoned homes and buildings need to be knocked down, but the city's inability to remove the blighted housing stock has made it a laughingstock to some.

John Robinson moved next door to a house that was already burned out and abandoned, but he figured everything would be okay because the city of Detroit had been paid to demolish it, per a notice Robinson spotted on the front door of the abandoned house.

Unfortunately, Detroit officials say there wasn't enough money to do the job and told Fox 2's M.L. Elrick in July they'd try to find a way to get it knocked down still.  Five months later - still no avail - and M.L. goes looking for answers.

VIDEO: Click on the video player above to watch M.L.'s report, or read the story below
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ELRICK: Hey, David Bell. M.L. Elrick, Fox 2. Did you ever hear the story about the house that got paid to be knocked down, but never got knocked down?

BELL: I'm not sure what you're talking about.

By day Dave Bell runs the city's demolition program. By night he's been known to do a little standup comedy.

But there's nothing funny about this story -- even though it's a farce.

ROBINSON: We were really blessed to be able to find this home. Then you look over here.

The house next door to John Robinson was a burned out wreck before he moved in. That would have scared off a lot of folks. But Robinson saw a notice on the front door and he figured everything was going to be all right.

ROBINSON: [The notice] says that the city has money; the city is holding money. ... The insurance company gave the city money to demolish the home.

What do you get when you cross the city of Detroit, an abandoned house and an insurance check?

Nothing ... Nada ... Zilch!

More than a year after Robinson moved in the city had cashed the check but that wreck of a house was still there. Take my money, please!

Robinson and his neighbors were fed up so they called Fox 2.

NEIGHBOR: Maybe you guys can help us out. Channel 2 can help us out.

When I contacted Mayor Bing's office I got this e-mail: It says the insurance payout wasn't enough to do the job. It also said the owner could knock it down cheaper than the city and even get some cash back. So the city could solve this problem with a phone call. There's just one problem: The mayor's office told me "the City has not contacted the owner."

That got me thinking about cheaper ways to fight this blight.

((BIG BAD WOLF TRIES TO KNOCK THE HOUSE DOWN))

Unfortunately, my friend the Big Bad Wolf is most effective on houses of straw and sticks.

So I turned to Bill Koresky, the demolition man from Able Demolition.
 
ELRICK TO KORESKY: So the city says it would cost about $9,700 to demolish this.
KORESKY: No. I mean, for this square footage size of a house you're talking six [thousand], seven [thousand], seven [thousand] five [hundred] on the high side. 65 [hundred] to 75 [hundred].
ELRICK: So they're saying that the difference in demolition cost is due to city administrative expenses and other costs.
KORESKY: I, uh, that's a lot of money just to pull a permit. To handle the paperwork? To hire a contractor? They just hand over the paperwork to us.
ELRICK: Will you guarantee to knock this house down for $7,812 or less?
KORESKY: Yeah, easily, yeah.

We figured this is info the city could use so we tried calling again.

ELRICK ((ON THE PHONE)): We'd like to get an interview with Mr. Bell. We're hoping we can set something up with you. Otherwise, we'll just try to contact him ourselves.

We never heard back from the city.

And, frankly, we got caught up with some other guy who used to run the city who didn't get anything done either.

But Robinson's problems continued. Scrappers stopped by. So eventually we had to go catch up with Mr. Bell, the city's top demolition official.

ELRICK TO BELL: Hey, David Bell, M.L. Elrick. This thing's been lingering. Don't you think those neighbors deserve to have that house knocked down?
BELL: Yes, I do.
ELRICK: Let me just ask you this. Able Demolition says they'll knock down the house for whatever you've got in the bank to knock this thing down. Can they do that? Will they be reimbursed?
BELL: I've got to refer you to Bill Nowling.

Bill Nowling is spokesman for emergency manger Kevyn Orr.

I left messages but the call I got came from Mayor Bing's office. They didn't get the house knocked down but they did get the water turned off -- two years after the house was abandoned!

This seems crazy to me, but living in Detroit can affect your judgment, so I turned to a friend of mine from up north - Kris Kringle.

((KRIS KRINGLE CHECKS OUT THE HOUSE))

After five months on the case my head was spinning. Is this a tragedy? A comedy? Or simply absurd? So I turned to an expert in demolition and comedy.
 
ELRICK TO BELL: Do you see anything funny about this situation?
BELL: Not at all. Not at all. We will respond to you.

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