DETROIT - Blight is a daunting issue in the city of Detroit. It's a problem valued at at least $500 million and spans countless neighborhoods. However, a nonprofit called the Detroit Blight Authority is looking to make a difference.
"We put the world on wheels, we're the arsenal of democracy, this is blighted structures and overgrown brush, this is well within our wheelhouse to do this," said Brian Farkas executive director for the company.
Farkas said he wanted to help fix the problem of blight after hearing a story about a Detroit woman killed by someone lurking in an abandoned house. He contacted his friend Bill Pulte, the grandson of billionaire Michigan home builder William Pulte, and the pair went to work.
Farkas plans to clear one neighborhood at a time until blight is irradiated. To many, this would seem an impossible challenge, but Detroit Blight Authority has already had some success in their first neighborhood on Chapel Street.
"In a matter of weeks we've changed the physical environment drastically for the better," said Brian Farkas.
Farkas hopes to clean up all the neighborhoods in less than five years.
The residents of Chapel Street were grateful. They once lived in fear of criminals hiding in the tall grass or abandoned houses.
"If I call the police they never come, they never come, you know. But you just keep calling and calling," said John Womble, who lives in the neighborhood.
When the Blight Authority came and began cleaning up, the mood changed.
"If nothing changes for 55 years and all of a sudden in a matter of three or four weeks you can see for blocks at a time, you can see how the hope would become contagious," says Farkas.
Seeing the success of Detroit Blight Authority in Chapel Street, the Detroit Crime Commission partnered with Farkas and the Pultes on their next project in Brightmoor. Andy Arena, of the Crime Commission, says the decrease in crime numbers is stunning.
"From a crime standpoint, it makes a huge difference. These cockroaches have no place to hide any more, it's either open air market or get out of town," said Arena.
"The community stands up on its own. So by getting rid of the blight you really help every other effort that's going on in these neighborhoods," says Farkas.
One of those efforts is job creation. As an added benefit, the Blight Authority has hired neighborhood residents to help with the cleanup. Over half of the work crews are comprised of people from the neighborhood.
"By hiring over 25 local residents the neighborhood has really kind of taken ownership over this project, which, it's their neighborhood," Farkas says.
Work crews in Brightmoor began clearing out brush and collecting garbage last month. However, the Blight Authority says it would like to continue with the $500,000 project beyond cleanup and demolish structures moving forward.
For more information on the Detroit Blight Authority or how to get involved, click here.
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