For the Hurt sisters on Detroit’s east side, the first sign of hope came Oct. 23, when Janice Hurt-Clarke noticed a truck parked outside the abandoned house next door to the home where she and her siblings grew up.
The house — vacant for at least a decade, its windows gone, leaving it open to become a drug den, a squatter’s place and even a home for wild animals — was a painful eyesore Hurt-Clarke and her sisters fought for a decade to have torn down.
She knew that truck meant their fight would soon be over.
“When I turned the corner I saw the truck, and I was like, ‘Hallelujah!’ ” Hurt-Clarke recalled Friday from the living room of the family’s house on the 2100 block of Hibbard near Kercheval.
Even better: Wrecking crews were out the next morning by 7 a.m.
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“By 8:15 the house was down, and they had started clearing it away,” Hurt-Clarke said. “By 1:45 — that’s when they went away — they had already taken away at least four trucks” of debris that once was the blighted house.
And that’s how a little piece of progress visited Hibbard Street and the Hurt sisters, who the Free Press wrote about in 2013 as Detroit was filing for the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
With pledges that the end result of bankruptcy would mean a city with far less debt and with money to reinvest in improving city services and clearing out blight, Hurt-Clarke and her sisters were optimistic in summer 2013 that change might come to their block, where the family’s home and the eyesore next door were the only two remaining structures from what used to be a thriving neighborhood.
This summer, when the Free Press revisited the Hurts, the blighted house was still standing, and their optimism was as faded as the neighborhood. They couldn’t get clear information from the city on when the house might be torn down.
It was a crew hired by Hantz Farms, the group behind Detroit’s largest urban agriculture effort. In 2012, Hantz won city approval to buy about 140 acres on the city’s east side in a bid to reclaim neglected and abandoned neighborhoods. Hantz aims to transform the blighted land into a hardwood tree farm.
As part of the deal, Hantz agreed to demolish homes on lots it purchased and expects to eventually tear down about 60 of them, said Adam Hollier, the company’s vice president. He confirmed the house next door to the Hurt family home was torn down by Hantz crews.
Hollier said Hantz demolished its first eyesore house last fall and plans to pick up the pace this fall.
“The process has been going slowly, because we were having problems getting water service disconnected,” Hollier said. Now, with water issues resolved and demolition permits approved, “we’re going to end up taking one house down a day every weekday for the rest of the year as we try to get these done.”
Mayor Mike Duggan’s office said it wasn’t immediately clear if the house was ever on a demolition list, but it wasn’t eligible for money under the Obama administration’s Hardest Hit funds, money that was sent to Michigan and 17 other states hit hardest by foreclosures in the recession. The federal government allowed Michigan to use some of the funds on blight removal.
Hurt-Clarke lives in what’s now the last remaining house on that block of Hibbard with her sister Eva Hurt. Their sisters Vera Hurt and Hattie Sanders also spend a lot of time there. The home has been in the family for 56 years.
As the neighborhood emptied out over the years, the sisters watched as nature returned, including pheasants and rabbits. At their own expense, they’ve mowed weeds and taken care of vacant lots and even painted curbs; they said the city couldn’t be counted on for that anymore.
Sanders said the battle was discouraging.
“The way that that home had deteriorated, it was a fire hazard and all kinds of hazards,” she said. “A dead body could have ended up being in there. And if a fire would start there, it could easily have caught on to this house.”
Vera Hurt said the family has taken pride in keeping up their share of the neighborhood.
They’ve been happy to see Hantz Farms come in and help, regularly mowing lots. And with Hantz having torn down the vacant house next door, said the neighborhood, while not what it once was, is at least cleaned up.
“That’s hopeful,” she said. “It really is.”
Contact Matt Helms: 313-222-1450 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @matthelms. Follow him on Twitter @matthelms. Full Article