Crews to start tearing down Brewster housing projects

To see more images of the Brewster housing projects, click here.  

The crumbling, graffiti-tagged Brewster-Douglass housing projects are finally coming down, Mayor Dave Bing will announce Wednesday morning.

Considered the nation’s first publicly funded housing project for black people, the community of red-brick buildings rapidly began to deteriorate in the 1980s because of neglect, crime and drugs.
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What’s left resembles a bombed-out village of red-brick buildings, some of them towering over I-75 near downtown.

The $6.5 million demolition project is part of the mayor’s ambitious quest to reduce blight by knocking down more than 10,000 buildings over four years.

brewster_1110Unlike some demolition projects, the Brewster plan has met minimal resistance, partly because the buildings have fallen into disrepair since becoming vacant in 2008.

Brewster has a rich, tragic history. Built in the 1930s, the red-brick buildings were the first publicly funded housing projects for black people.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an outspoken advocate of racial equality, was at the groundbreaking and said the new apartments represented a grand achievement for human rights.

At any given time, between 8,000 and 10,000 residents lived at the Brewster projects.

But a drawn-out exodus left the housing units vacant in 2008.

brewster_9405Since then, the buildings have crumbled. Thieves have gutted everything of value, tearing apart floors, ceilings and walls for metal. The grounds are covered in trash, glass and furniture chucked from the top floors.

The adjacent recreation center where Joe Louis learned how to box is falling apart. Tennis and basketball courts are cracked, with long grass poking out of the concrete.

Bing’s press conference is at 10:30 a.m. at the housing projects.
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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

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