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Detroit's historic Brewster-Douglass housing projects will soon be gone

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Detroit’s historic Brewster-Douglass housing projects will finally come all the way down sometime this spring.

Thefinal stage of the ongoing demolition effortat the 18.5 acre site started Monday. Officials say it will last for another two months, while land restoration will continue throughout the summer.

When that restoration is complete, the site will become a piece of what’s now considered prime real estate between Detroit’s downtown and midtown areas – and remove a visible piece of blight from the city’s skyline.

Brewster-Douglass was the nation’s first publicly-subsidized housing complex for African-Americans when it opened in 1938. Over the years, it was home to some of the most famous Detroiters of the 20th century, including Diana Ross and Joe Louis.

Many people who lived there during its first decades remember Brewster-Douglass as a warm, friendly place that often felt like one big family.

But the complex always had its troubles, and they grew rapidly worse as the city around it declined.

Former resident Colbert Prince, who came out to watch part of the demolition process, had “mixed emotions” about it. “I want to see something new come about, but I also hate seeing it demolished,” Prince said.

The demolition started under former Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, who also came out Monday.

While Bing called it “a wonderful day” for Detroit's blight eradication campaign, he also called the former projects “a piece of history" that shouldn't be forgotten.

Bing he’d like to see some of the real estate transformed into an affordable “senior village” – and invite former Brewster-Douglass residents back to live there.

“There’s going to be a need on an ongoing basis for affordable housing for a large majority of our population here in the city of Detroit,” Bing said.

Current Mayor Mike Duggan and his economic development team are talking with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies about “how we can use this property and adjoining property…in a way that puts housing and economic opportunities together,” Duggan said.

The Obama administration has supported the Brewster-Douglass demolition, with HUD awarding a $6.5 million grant to pay for demolition costs.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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