Meet Detroit’s unlikeliest home wrecker
By Holly Bailey, Yahoo News
DETROIT — Bill Pulte’s grandfather was just 18 when he built his first home here in the summer of 1950 on the city’s east side — a five-room bungalow with a fireplace that sold for $10,000 even before it was completed.
Within a decade, William Pulte had built his first subdivision in what was then a booming Motor City metropolis and was considered a pioneer of mass production home-building. His business, the PulteGroup, quickly expanded nationally and has since become one of the country’s top residential development companies, building nearly 1 million homes in 28 states.
While William Pulte left his namesake company four years ago, the family name remains synonymous with building houses in Detroit. So it took many by surprise when Bill Pulte, the housing icon’s 25-year-old grandson, began pitching a plan more than a year ago to city officials that seemed counterintuitive to everything that had made his family famous.
Instead of building homes, Pulte wanted to use his family’s institutional knowledge to tear them down — specifically the tens of thousands of abandoned houses that have scarred Detroit’s landscape for years. He argued that just as his family and other home builders had learned how to quickly build homes, the same rules could be applied in opposite to rid neighborhoods of blight at a faster pace.
Over the years, Detroit officials had tried to tackle its urban decay problem — demolishing a house here and another there in various parts of the city before it ran out of money. But Pulte saw that as a futile effort that only wasted taxpayer dollars.
“The only way to really get rid of blight is to tackle it on a mass scale,” he said. “The idea of taking one home here and the other 20 miles away makes absolutely no sense. You have to go community by community, block by block. That’s the only way to really have an impact.”
City officials were initially skeptical of Pulte’s idea — and they weren’t the only ones. He had first pitched his grandfather two years ago on the idea of doing something about Detroit’s epidemic of empty buildings. The elder Pulte advised his grandson that he shouldn’t touch the issue “with a 10-foot pole.” He thought the problem was too big and too fraught with controversy in a city that already had major problems.
But Pulte ultimately forged ahead. He moved to Detroit and, with his grandfather’s support, created the Detroit Blight Authority, a nonprofit group funded by private money —including a $100,000 contribution from the Pulte family. He’s since raised just over $1 million to get rid of vacant buildings and is looking to raise more.
Knocking down a house in Detroit isn’t easy — or cheap. Demolition of an individual house can cost upwards of $10,000, including the expense of hiring various contractors and getting city permits. But Pulte says his demolitions cost about half that much — in part because he brings in specialized labor and equipment to take down several houses at once and remove the debris.
The DBA’s first project — in Detroit’s Eastern Market area—cost just $200,000. His workers took down 10 city blocks of abandoned buildings — including several homes and two vacant churches that had been magnets for robberies and drug activity. The removal took just 10 days.
He turned next to Brightmoor, a troubled neighborhood on Detroit’s west side that had been overtaken by blocks of abandoned homes. The area had one of the highest crime rates in the city — including rapes, drug deals and arsons. People from all over the city had come to treat its desolate streets like a dumping ground, blatantly disposing of tires and old furniture — making some streets totally impassable.