Recent Research Results PD&R, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Policy Development and Research
RRR logo Deconstruction Fosters Economic Development

A growing number of communities are carefully demolishing sections of buildings and salvaging their parts before completely demolishing or renovating them. Deconstruction is the new term for this old process. What is both innovative and exciting is how communities are using deconstruction to support economic development by:

  • Creating new training and jobs for unskilled and unemployed workers.
  • Fostering new businesses to handle the salvaged material.
  • Benefiting the environment by diverting valuable resources from crowded landfills to profitable uses.

A Report on the Feasibility of Deconstruction: An Investigation of Deconstruction Activity in Four Cities is a new report from HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research. Based on a study of four cities, the report focuses on deconstruction as an economic development tool. This report is especially timely for public housing authorities implementing HOPE VI strategies and for public and private groups looking for new community improvement strategies. The report has several useful appendixes, including case studies of deconstruction activities in the four cities and a technical briefing paper with survey methods for physically assessing properties for deconstruction.

According to the report, whether deconstruction is a viable economic development tool depends on the type of deconstruction activity and the market for recovered materials. There are two types of deconstruction: nonstructural and structural. Nonstructural deconstruction—salvaging fixtures, appliances, and other components—is a mature industry with markets nationwide. Every city in the study has building material operations that sell recovered doors, windows, and fixtures. There is also a high-end market for materials such as salvaged architectural antiques and custom-made cabinets.

Structural deconstruction—the removal of joists, beams, and other structural components—is an emerging market. A number of factors, including environmental contamination, code issues, and project time constraints, determine when structural deconstruction is feasible. Furthermore, the value of the recovered materials must offset the labor required to get them. Metropolitan areas with a surplus of vacant, deteriorated properties constructed before 1950 are the best candidates for this type of deconstruction.

The study profiles deconstruction in four cities: El Paso, Miami, Milwaukee, and Nashville. Compared with the other localities, Milwaukee has the most active deconstruction program. The report attributes Milwaukee's success to the involvement of both private and public sectors and to an extensive network of nonprofit groups involved in deconstruction. There is also a large supply of salvageable building materials from vacant, deteriorated housing within the central city area.

According to the report, deconstruction depends on public support, particularly during the startup phase and, frequently, throughout the project. Public support ranges from funding for nonprofit clearinghouses to promote deconstruction to incorporating deconstruction into workforce training programs. Metropolitan public housing authorities are also implementing nonstructural deconstruction, primarily to reduce waste disposal and building maintenance costs.

A Report on the Feasibility of Deconstruction: An Investigation of Deconstruction Activity in Four Cities is available from HUD USER for $5. Use the order form.

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