Second stage of demo begins on historic Brewster-Douglass project


Demolition of the storied, crumbling Brewster-Douglass housing projects reached its second phase Wednesday as crews began tearing down 154 mid-rise units.

Crews already removed the row houses and plan to tackle the high-rise units in the spring.

Considered the nation’s first publicly funded housing project for black people, Brewster-Douglass rapidly began to deteriorate in the 1980s because of neglect, crime and drugs.

What’s left resembles a bombed-out village of red-brick buildings, some of them towering over I-75 near downtown.
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“The demolition of the Frederick Douglass Homes will mark the end of an era, but more importantly, the beginning of a major redevelopment and revitalization opportunity for our city,” Mayor Dave Bing said on one of his last days in office. “This demolition is a culmination of my four-year plan to demolish 10,000 dangerous and vacant structures in our city.”

brewster_1131The $6.5 million demolition project is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The second phase of the demolition of the Brewster-Douglass Towers represents another significant step in revitalization efforts for the City of Detroit,” HUD Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, Sandra Henriquez, said Wednesday. “Today’s demolition isn’t about removing an eyesore from the cityscape. It is about rebuilding and revitalizing community for the long term. HUD and the Obama Administration are committed to continuing our close partnership with the Detroit Housing Commission and the City to restore hope and promise to the citizens of Detroit and build ladders of opportunity for working families living in low-income housing.”
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Unlike 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.

Since 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 dropped from the top floors.
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The adjacent recreation center where Joe Louis learned how to box is falling apart. Tennis and basketball courts are cracked.
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“The elimination of the crime-ridden vacant housing is both an environmental and visual accomplishment made possible as the result of federal and local priorities,” said Kelley Lyons, Executive Director.

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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