Proposal N: The Benefits and Drawbacks of Detroit’s Demolition Question

If passed, Prop N would allow the city of Detroit to use $250 million in bonds to demolish 8,000 dilapidated homes and preserve another 8,000 structures.

FILE — Blighted homes in Detroit.

FILE — Blighted homes in Detroit.

Proposal N is a city-led initiative to borrow $250 million in bonds to eliminate blight throughout Detroit. The accrued funds would be allocated to demolish 8,000 dilapidated structures and preserve up to 8,000 salvageable homes.

According to the Detroit Free Press, “The city would have to repay investors the principal amount of the bonds plus interest at a rate expected to be between 3.64% and 6.58%. Interest alone could cost the city about $240 million.”

Metro Detroit: Local Issues On Your Ballot In November 2020

The ballot initiative, like most things this election cycle, is polarizing. Some residents are wary of the city borrowing money amid a recession and so soon after Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Nathan Bomey, a business reporter with USA Today, says he understands the reservations some hold, while also recognizing the urgency of the measure. “I think it’s important to be careful, this is a city that’s less than six years out of chapter 9 bankruptcy… on one hand it is very risky…on the other hand I don’t think Detroit can wait too long to invest in city services,” says Bomey.

Listen: Everything you need to know about Prop N.  


The Detroit News, City of Detroit

Arthur Jemison, Group Executive for Planning, Housing, and Development for the City of Detroit, says that Prop N allows for expanded investment in neighborhood development. According to Jemison the project to demolish and preserve vulnerable homes in the city will be carried out by Detroit residents. “We can make sure that 51% of all the work hours are performed by Detroit-based companies and Detroiters,” says Jemison of the ballot initiative. He adds that he believes this can all be done without increasing Detroiters’ taxes.

Dave Massaron, Chief Financial Officer for the City of Detroit, says that it’s important to act now to secure funds, as the pandemic has constrained the city’s budget significantly. “We have $410 million less than expected because of a pandemic. If this doesn’t pass, I assume we could continue emergency demolitions but that would be the extent of what we could fund,” says Massaron on the financial implications of Prop N.


The Detroit Free Press, Call ‘Em Out

Detractors of Prop N say there are simply too many unanswered questions around the ballot initiative. One of those questions being, what happens to these homes and lots once they are demolished or rehabbed? Will the city be able to sell them? Bomey says that is a question that is troubling some residents. “Just because you eliminate the blight, doesn’t mean you eliminate the eyesore. I do think the devil is in the details here; the city’s handling of this from a land-use perspective is really key,” says Bomey.

Many city residents also remain skeptical around borrowing, plagued by the memory of past money mismanagement. For others, it’s the potential for environmental hazards giving them pause as demolitions increase the chance of toxic exposure.

READ MORE: Proposal N — Your Voter Guide to the Detroit Ballot Initiative [Detour Detroit]

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