State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D) paid $1,000 in July 2018 to buy the house on Detroit’s west side from the Detroit Land Bank Authority, which seeks to fix up blighted properties. Her nonprofit organization then spent about $42,000 to fix the house’s roof, windows, siding and more.
On Thursday, Gay-Dagnogo heard from a professional contact at the organization Detroit Blight Busters, which tries to rebuild struggling neighborhoods. He gave her a surprising piece of news: Her house was gone. A pile of dirt and a red mesh fence marked the spot.
“It’s just a mystery. The house disappeared,” Gay-Dagnogo told the Detroit News. “It’s like they dug around [the house] with a spatula and lifted the basement out. There’s nothing there.”
Tyrone Clifton, director of the Detroit Building Authority, told The Washington Post that the city did not order, direct or fund the demolition of Gay-Dagnogo’s house. A demolition tracker map run by the city also does not show a demolition slated for the property.
“There also was no permit pulled by any private party for demolition at this address,” Clifton said in a statement. “This is now being handled by the Detroit Police Department as a criminal investigation.”
WDIV first reported on the demolition.
The mysterious demolition comes as Detroit seeks to tear down 40,000 vacant structures across the city in an effort to improve neighborhoods. At least 13 of the federally funded program’s contractors have been suspended since June 2016 for reasons including mishandling asbestos and demolishing the wrong house, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Gay-Dagnogo, who represents and lives in northwest Detroit, has criticized the demolition program for how its funding has been spent and for the lack of minority contractors working on the project. She does not, however, think her house was razed because of her views on the demolitions overall.
“I won’t rule it out, but I don’t think that was necessarily the case,” Gay-Dagnogo told The Post. “I think there are not enough protocols in place to ensure that these types of things” don’t happen.
Gay-Dagnogo said her nonprofit organization, the Coalition to Integrate Technology and Education, had bought two properties near city parks with the intention of revitalizing them. She initially noticed the now-demolished home on Minock Street while she was walking her dog.
A vacant, city-owned structure next to Gay-Dagnogo’s house caught fire in June and was torn down by demolition company Adamo Group in July.
An attorney for the company, Christian Hauser, told the Detroit Free Press that Adamo had “absolutely nothing to do with” the demolition of Gay-Dagnogo’s house. John Roach, a Detroit spokesman, told The Post that Adamo had given the city photos from July 30 that showed the cleared house next door and the untouched house belonging to Gay-Dagnogo. He declined to say whether Adamo had been cleared in the police investigation.
Gay-Dagnogo’s house was damaged by the fire next door, so she said she boarded up the structure and was seeking permits to keep renovating it. Her insurance company reimbursed her about $34,000 for the damages. The city recently had sent her a letter saying she had until Oct. 14 to rehabilitate the property or demolish it.
Renovating the home was turning out to be an all-consuming task, Gay-Dagnogo said.
“It sounded like a great idea in the inception,” she said, “but it was a little more overwhelming than I had anticipated.”
When Gay-Dagnogo heard her house had been torn down, she said she went to the site around 8:30 p.m. and shone her car lights at the dark lot. She saw the mesh fence and knew the structure was really gone.
Gay-Dagnogo said she has talked with the police department, the city council and Mayor Mike Duggan (D), and no one seems to know what happened. Some neighbors told police they saw the demolition in progress but didn’t think anything of it or notice the name on the truck, Gay-Dagnogo said.
Detroit’s demolition program, meant to help the city recover from its 2013 bankruptcy, was the subject of a criminal investigation that in April led to charges against two former Adamo employees. They were accused of accepting bribes and rigging demolition bids. Both were sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to fraud-related charges. Adamo also faced a 90-day suspension last year when it tore down the wrong home.
Federal officials also tightened their oversight of the demolition program in June after U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Rashida Tlaib, both Michigan Democrats, asked for additional regulations related to potentially contaminated soil, asbestos exposure and illegal dumping.
As for Gay-Dagnogo, she said she has offered a $1,000 reward for anyone who can identify the people who demolished her house. She’s also working on a resolution in the state legislature that would request greater oversight of the federal money funding Detroit’s demolition project.
Other residents have told Gay-Dagnogo that their homes also were razed without their receiving proper notice.
“To me, it raises a question of what could we do better?” Gay-Dagnogo said. “I just believe that you should have certain protocols in place to make sure that, number one, we’re safeguarding citizens’ rights; two, we’re being mindful of the funding that’s being used, which is our tax dollars.”
While she works on all of that, Gay-Dagnogo also has a more basic concern about the spot where her house once stood.
“My question,” she said, “is who’s going to fill this hole?”