A notorious, vacant and crime-ridden housing project that has overshadowed downtown Detroit for decades, a symbol of the city's decline, is slated to be pulled down early next year, Mayor Dave Bing said Thursday.

Police and firefighters frequently respond to reports of crime and arson in the massive Frederick Douglass Homes complex, and demolishing it will allow scant city emergency resources to be deployed elsewhere, Bing said.

"It's going to take us, probably, the better part of a year to get everything down," the mayor told reporters at a news conference in front of the hulking complex commonly known as the Brewster Projects. "This total area will be cleaned up."

A $6.5 million federal Housing and Urban Development grant will cover the cost of tearing down the 75 condo-style apartments, two six-story buildings and four 14-story towers. Soil remediation — the removal of any below-ground pollution — is included in that tally.

The city has no set plans for redevelopment of the complex where a young Diana Ross and the Supremes spent some of their pre-Motown years. Past proposals have included a mix of new homes and retail establishments.

Frederick Douglass Homes was not always a blot on the landscape or a dangerous place to live. Formerly known as the Brewster-Douglass housing project, the 661 units were completed in the early 1950s to provide affordable homes for working-class people. The last families vacated in 2008.

The 2010 census confirmed what many Detroiters already knew: thousands of people have migrated from the city in recent years. Some 30,000 homes stand vacant and abandoned buildings litter the once-thriving industrial center.

"We're going to have good memories about this place," Bing said, "But we've not done anything with it. It's become an eyesore. We've got to think about now and our future. Our future is demolishing this."

Adjacent to the unfenced housing project is a senior citizens complex. Some children in the surrounding neighbourhood have to navigate their way past on their way to school.

"We have big concerns in regard to our children being harmed or snatched up from people who are lurking in these buildings," said Brush Park Citizens District Council chair Gardner. "It's not secure."

Detroit became in dire need of inexpensive housing in the 1920s and 1930s as automakers and other manufacturers expanded and attracted a large workforce to the city. Construction of the Frederick Douglass Homes was completed in 1952.

"I know there's a lot of history here. I'm sure some people may even think that it shouldn't come down," Bing said. "But as we look at changing the face of Detroit this is going to start with this."