Community lands funds to fight blight


Muskegon County Land Bank Authority is targeting 37 properties in Muskegon Heights for demolition. Photo via

A lakeshore community has some new ammunition in its efforts to clean up abandoned properties.

Muskegon County will move forward with new projects to take care of rundown housing with money from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Hardest Hit Fund for Blight Elimination. The funds were started in 2010, and Muskegon received more than $2 million in 2014.

The Muskegon County Land Bank and city of Muskegon Heights recently selected ASTI Environmental to provide pre-demolition asbestos surveys and abatement monitoring services for 37 properties in Muskegon Heights.

When the Muskegon area received the funds, it targeted more than 200 properties, with priority given to those near schools for a safer community.

Although ASTI missed out on previous bids in the Muskegon area, Muskegon Land Bank Coordinator Tim Burgess made sure the firm was allowed to bid on the most recent project, said Joe Beutler, ASTI director of the West Michigan market.

ASTI has made it a priority to find nearly untapped funds such as the HHF to help stay afloat, said Beutler, who noted ASTI did not lay off any employees during the Great Recession.

“We try to find funds that other firms might not really be looking at,” he said.

ASTI has performed blight work across the state with the HHF, including with the Lenawee County Land Bank and the cities of Alpena and Inkster.

Beutler will direct the ASTI team in field activities, quality assurance and quality control of lab results, report preparation and abatement oversight.

HHF expansion

It was also announced last month the Treasury Department would transfer $2 billion more into the HHF. States have until 2017 to use the funds.

Eligible cities for the fund are selected by the Michigan State Housing and Development Authority based on criteria such as residential vacancy rates and underwater mortgages. More than 29,000 homeowners received assistance through the HHF.

A majority of the HHF’s more than $498 million was used in Saginaw, Flint and Detroit.

“This is a huge win for cities like Flint and Saginaw and will keep the momentum going to revitalize our neighborhoods,” U.S.Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, said in a statement. “We’re already seeing how this funding is making a real difference locally, where thousands of blighted properties have already been demolished. It’s important our cities have the resources they need to continue making our neighborhoods safer places to raise a family.”

Since 2012, Genesee County has been able to tear down more than 2,000 properties, but an additional 2,400 also need demolition.

According to a study by the Land Policy institute at Michigan State University, $3.5 million worth of demolition in Flint helped improve surrounding property values by $112 million.

“One of my top priorities in Congress has been to support older, industrial communities like Flint and Saginaw so that they can compete in the new economy,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, said in a press release. “Studies have proven that removing blight increases property values and decreases crime. But the real way I measure success is by imagining what an 8-year-old child sees when they stand on their front porch — do they see a burned-out building? Or can they go next door to play at a new park because we have cleared away the blight? These new efforts are helping to make a positive difference in the lives of Flint residents.”

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