Blight Elimination Program funds still benefitting Northeast Michigan

Courtesy Photo One of many promotional visuals from Property Cleanout Michigan’s website. This is a home the company cleaned the outside of, as seen by the dumpsters in the bottom right. CEO Vincent Dontje said the size of the cleanup and how many dumpsters are needed factor into the costs of his services.

ALPENA — Michigan state law defines blighted areas as “a portion of a municipality, developed or undeveloped, improved or unimproved, with business or residential uses, marked by a demonstrated pattern of deterioration in physical, economic, or social conditions.” While usually viewed as a problem encountered in large urban areas, small rural areas are also facing this problem.

In February, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer awarded $72.5 million in blight elimination funds to assist communities across Michigan. The funds were distributed in four rounds through 2023 into 2024, and Northeast Michigan saw funds dispersed across the first three rounds according to the Blight Elimination Program Awards page. The region received roughly $2.9 million, which is 4% of all the funds awarded across the state.

“Blight elimination is vital for the well-being and future success of our state,” Whitmer said in a press release. “Our commitment today is an investment in the long-term prosperity and vitality of our state, ensuring that future generations have access to thriving, vibrant neighborhoods where they can live, work and prosper.”

Vincent Dontje is the CEO of Property Cleanout Michigan, which offers various cleanup services across the state. A man who grew up in Northern Michigan and always wanted to come back, he saw the need for home and property cleanouts that weren’t just “junk hauling.”

“I had this thought, that ‘I’m sure I could make money doing this,’ and I have,” he said. “It’s grown substantially in the last 10 years.”

Dontje said his business started offering blight cleaning services two years ago. He estimates by the end of this year, 20% of their revenue will have come from blight cleanups.

“This year we bought a booth at the Township Supervisor’s Conference in Traverse City to give out materials,” he said. “Since then, the phones have been ringing off the hook for them.”

Dontje said Whitmer’s Blight Elimination Program may be one of the reasons this service has grown in popularity.

Dontje said homes are often cluttered on the inside and outside, but when contacted by the city his crews only clean the outside. His sister business, Hoarder Cleanup Michigan, cleans up the insides of homes for those struggling.

“We want them to know that they have no reason to be embarrassed about anything and we’re here to help,” he said. “We do this not only because it’s a business, but because my team cares.”

Alpena was awarded over half a million dollars from the program, which was received as late as September 2023. These funds are still in use by the Alpena Land Bank Authority, and the next planned use of them was discussed at a city council meeting on June 3, according to the city’s website. Three properties on Bedford Street will be demolished and new homes will be put in their place.

Alpena Mayor Cindy Johnson said she signed the check for the city to purchase these properties on June 11 and believes manufactured homes will be put in their place. She said the paperwork is still being worked on for two other properties in the city.

This story was produced by the Michigan News Group Internship Program, a collaboration between WCMU Public Media and local newspapers in central and northern Michigan. The program’s mission is to train the next generation of journalists and combat the rise of rural news deserts.


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