322 W. Muir, one of the homes slated for demolition in Hazel Park.
The narrative of struggling inner-ring suburbs sharing in Detroit’s decline has become conventional wisdom since the collapse of the housing market spread the city’s pain to the suburbs. But Hazel Park is rewriting the story, and assistant city manager Jeff Campbell is holding the pen.
His most recent triumph is a blight remediation grant from the Michigan Land Bank Authority. The $50,000 in grant funds will allow the city to tear down seven blighted properties around the city with issues too severe for renovation or private party interest. One of the homes on the list was owned by a hoarder. Another has severe mold issues. Most have been vacant for years.
“Demolition of houses, in a strategic way, is an extremely effective tool for neighborhood stabilization,” Campbell says.
Unlike Detroit, where demolition efforts sometimes result in large swaths of vacant land and sparsely populated neighborhoods, Hazel Park’s demolitions are taking place in densely populated neighborhoods where a small number of blighted properties are dragging down property values in defiance of a positive city-wide trend.
Neighbors of the properties slated for demolition welcomed the news.
“Thank God,” says Gregory Pergeau, who lives across the street from one of the homes. Scrappers have stripped the house, and neighbors report strangers attempting to break into the back door. “The whole neighborhood wants it done.”
New construction is expected to replace about half of the demolished properties, particularly those that sit on large lots. Small neighborhood parks or other public spaces, such as community gardens, will occupy the remainder.
The demolition program is only one of many tools Campbell is wielding to build a promising future for Hazel Park.
Campbell also created LandCURE, a nonprofit established to speed the return of tax-foreclosed homes to the market. Unlike many similar programs, however, LandCURE improves the properties before offering them for sale, which improves the city’s housing stock and makes them more attractive to owner-occupant buyers.
Together, the two programs work to stabilize property values and neighborhoods where “speculators and slumlords” bought up homes only to allow them to fall into disrepair and foreclosure.
Most of LandCURE’s sales have been to Millennial homebuyers, a group that consistently ranks public spaces and walkable communities high among their priorities in choosing a place to live. That shifting demographic is shaping the city’s planning for their major thoroughfare.
The city recently welcomed experts from the Congress of New Urbanism for a three-day event to engage residents in brainstorming ideas for transforming the John R business district to capitalize on high-profile additions like Hazel Park’s first microbrewery, Cellarmen’s, and Top Chef contestant Chef James Rigato’s restaurant, Mabel Grey. Recommendations from the event, rooted in public discussions and shaped by the expertise of the CNU organizers, will form a “vision” to guide future projects.
Campbell credits community feedback and engagement for the widespread support Hazel Park has received from residents. The LandCURE renovation efforts, John R development plans, and the blight removal program are all popular in the city, and a recent millage increase passed with the support of 73 percent of voters.
“Trying to make planning decisions for the town, that’s not my job.” Campbell says. “My job is to (carry out) what the public thinks they need and what they want.”
“It starts and ends with the citizens.”