Saginaw Habitat Adds Demolition to Its Mission
“You have to look at the mission; the mission is to make housing more affordable,” said Paul Warriner, the executive director of Saginaw’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate. “And when you think about this, that isn’t too much of a stretch.”
Still, it is an untested realm for volunteers, many of whom have spent years hammering nails and painting boards in new houses, never thinking of trying to take one apart. Last week, a chilly group from Habitat for Humanity, including several people fulfilling community service requirements and one who was staying in a homeless shelter, ripped wallboards and windows from a house as a fire still burned in its fireplace.
“It’s more challenging than building, where you go in linear steps,” said Chuck Aubin, a longtime volunteer who helped lead efforts to demolish a credit union — one of the affiliate’s first tests in taking apart a building here. “With deconstruction, you don’t know what you’re getting into until you tear that panel off the wall.”
Saginaw, with some 56,000 people, was, by some estimates, nearly twice as populous when the automobile business boomed. These days, the biggest employer is the health care industry, city officials said. Saginaw, a 100-mile drive from Detroit, is a city of contrasts: neighborhoods of enormous, well-kept homes (this was, after all, a lumber town before it was a car town) but also blocks of vacant lots and shuttered houses.
“The problem is endemic throughout the Midwestern, older industrial towns,” said Darnell Earley, Saginaw’s city manager. “It’s going to be very difficult to catch up with it.”
On the city’s east side on a recent afternoon, a mail carrier stepped onto the porch of what appeared to be the only occupied house in sight and then drove off, past a whirring bulldozer demolishing the remains of a burned house and past every other house on the block, boarded and abandoned.