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Green Building News

Habitat for Humanity Volunteers Are Deconstructing Michigan Homes

In Saginaw, Michigan, Habitat for Humanity volunteers salvage cabinets, light fixtures, doors and boards from condemned houses.
Image Credit: Cameron Brady, Habitat For Humanity Saginaw

In Depopulated Midwestern Cities, Demolition Is a Pressing Need

SAGINAW, Mich. — For the last 30 years, Habitat for Humanity volunteers have focused most of their efforts on new home construction or remodeling. In recent years, however, Habitat volunteers are learning a new trade: demolition.

According to the New York Times, the Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Saginaw, Michigan has received state and federal funding to demolish vacant, dilapidated homes at the rate of two houses per week. “Volunteers are learning to rip down plaster, pull apart walls and tear off roofs,” the Times reported. “The shift in the organization’s focus is a sign of the times in Saginaw, a shrinking city northwest of Detroit where at least 800 houses sit empty and doomed, and offers a glimpse of what increasingly empty neighborhoods in many cities may soon face as foreclosures continue. … In cities where so many homes sit empty, the group is leaning away from building new houses and instead fixing up old ones, said Ken Klein, the vice chairman of the group’s board.”

The trend is not limited to Saginaw; at least 100 other Habitat affiliates are involved in building deconstruction. Demolition volunteers usually try to salvage reusable materials like cabinets, light fixtures, sinks, and doors. “It’s more challenging than building, where you go in linear steps,” said Saginaw volunteer Chuck Aubin. “With deconstruction, you don’t know what you’re getting into until you tear that panel off the wall.”

Too Big and Too Far Gone

The houses being demolished in Saginaw aren’t worth repairing. “A lot of these are just too big for us to use,” said Paul Warriner, the executive director of Habitat For Humanity Saginaw. “Some of them are not in real good areas, perhaps. And some of them are just too far gone, too dangerous.”

Saginaw has many blocks filled with boarded-over houses. “The problem is endemic throughout the Midwestern, older industrial towns,” said Saginaw city manager Darnell Earley. “It’s going to be very difficult to catch up with it.”

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