Flint, MI—Local developer Communities First, Inc. has begun work on its new mixed-use building in the historic Carriage Town neighborhood of Flint.

The $16.7 million development, called “The Grand on University,” will provide 43 affordable units at 30 to 60 percent of the area median income, which is $30,383, according to most recent US Census data. There will also be five market-rate units and first-floor commercial space for tenant services.

“Thanks for what you’re doing because it’s giving people an opportunity and a different outlook on what possibilities there are for them,” said Dave Lurvey, president of Lurvey Construction, the lead contractor on the development, at the July 26, 2022 groundbreaking ceremony. “Happy to construct the project, but I think this is much more about people than it is about bricks and mortar.”

Later speakers followed up on Lurvey’s comment, noting the dearth of affordable housing throughout Michigan and particularly in Genesee County.

“I am excited,” said Flint City Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter, who serves the 5th Ward where The Grand on University will be built. “The state of Michigan is short nearly 200,000 affordable housing units, and Genesee County is short nearly 5,000 affordable housing units. This housing development will serve as a sure way to help solve the nation’s affordable housing crisis, and it will give our residents here in the city of Flint more quality, affordable housing options and opportunities.”

Flint City Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter, speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the upcoming affordable housing complex called ‘The Grand on University’ on the corner of Grand Traverse Street and University Avenue in Flint, Mich. on July 26, 2022. (Michael Indriolo | Flint Beat)

The site of the new development at the northeast corner of Grand Traverse Street and University Avenue most recently housed a grocery store that caught fire and was ultimately demolished in 2004.

From there, the site’s owner and Carriage Town Ministries partnered to create a park space that area residents said they lamented losing to the development.

“These buildings that we’ve gathered here to celebrate this afternoon have come at a considerable cost in general,” said Carriage Town resident Cade Surface, who told Flint Beat in a 2021 interview that he came to support the project after the developer changed the structure’s design and communication strategy with the Carriage Town Neighborhood Association, of which he is also a member. 

“We’re not just losing this grassy square,” Surface continued. “The advocacy for and against these buildings by my neighbors has strained the relationship between us. It has, depending on one’s stance, either bolstered or weakened faith in our city’s governments and commissions. It’s challenged our views on the value and values of historic preservation. And with the passage of the PILOT designation, this development will levy a monetary cost on the residents of Flint for the next half century.”

Rendering of the coming ‘The Grand on University’ mixed-use development at 422 S. University Street. (Courtesy of Communities First, Inc.)

Surface went on to say that despite all of those pain points in the five years since Communities First began talks to purchase the temporary park parcel, he was glad to see the project come to fruition.

But, he added, a larger task is still ahead for the developer.

“It’s now going to be up to Communities First, and all of the other real estate development agencies for that matter, to show us that these years of difficult discussions and hard-fought debates were worth it.”

Glenn Wilson, Communities First Inc.’s president and CEO, closed out the ceremony by noting that more work is needed to put a true dent in Genesee County’s affordable home shortage.

“Let me remind you that this is just a groundbreaking for 48 units, yet we still have a great need for 5000 additional,” Wilson said, before ending on a quote.

“Robert Kennedy also said, ‘Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resilience,'” Wilson said. “So let’s not forget the power in standing up for others even when it’s unpopular because we all need you.”

Construction of The Grand on University is expected to be completed in the fall of 2023, according to Michael Wright, Communities First Inc.’s vice president of real estate development.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....