Published on Nov. 7, 2016
I had the opportunity to video the demolition of a house from start to finish. Near where I live in northern Illinois, there was an area of a few houses that had chronic flooding problems whenever there was a heavy rain. The village was unable to prevent the flooding, and the homeowners had to have emergency flood recovery crews out after every major rain storm. Eventually the homeowners found other places to live, but it was not clear whether they still owned these houses and perhaps were still paying on them, or if they had just walked away from them. In either case, somebody had boarded up all the windows and doors, and they sat unoccupied for more than a year.
A couple days before this video was taken I noticed that the various utilities had been disconnected (power and phone cables had been disconnected and their wires rolled up and hanging from the utility poles, and some excavation done to apparently remove the gas, water and sewer pipes). So I started to do a daily drive-by to check their status, as demolition seemed to be pending.
Then one afternoon I noticed that one of the houses disappeared during the day. The next morning, I heard the sound of loud crunching and motor sounds, but by the time I drove over to that neighborhood, the second house was half way demolished by a large Caterpillar backhoe. Since it seemed that they were trying to do one house each day, the next morning I got up early and drove over just in time to catch the start of the third house demolition, which I used my smartphone camera to record for the entirety of the above-ground work. I was not able to stay for the demolition of the basement and other foundation work, or for debris removal, but I did shoot some video at the end of the process.
I found it interesting how the backhoe operator maneuvered his machine, how he deliberately worked to get demolished parts of the house to fall into the basement (after collapsing the floor to allow this), and then was able to partially drive his machine onto the pile of rubble in the basement to get at the back walls of the house.
I wish that I had been able to catch the process of digging out the debris from the basement and putting it into trucks, and it would have been nice to see how the concrete foundation/basement walls were broken up, but I did have to earn a living and the office could not wait any longer.....
I noticed how there was another person with a camera also watching the demolition, and part way through the process she came over to ask if perhaps I was a previous owner of the house. We got to talking, some of which you can hear over the noise of the video. She said she was from FEMA and was the agent in charge of getting these houses demolished. If I understood her correctly, one of the homeowners was still paying on the mortgage of their house although they had moved to another house that they were also paying on, but that the other previous homeowners had walked away from their flood stricken houses and just let the banks foreclose on them. So then she had been involved in finding some combination of funding to buy out the properties from the banks and/or the homeowner, and then get them demolished. It was my understanding that she had something like 100 similar properties that needed the same treatment, but that funds were not yet available to do them. In the case of these local properties, it is my understanding that the county came up with most of the funds.
Both the agent and the village have indicated that the plans for the combines properties in this part of the neighborhood will be converted at village expense to be a combination of rainwater catch-basin/retention pond, with perhaps have some marshland and/or natural prairie development involved.