Flint, MI—In the first of a series of planned presentations, the city of Flint, the Genesee County Land Bank Authority, and the Flint Police Foundation shared a new $154 million, five-year framework to address the city’s blight.
“The goal of this work is to stabilize Flint’s population by eliminating blight citywide, in all neighborhoods, with the priority of improving the quality of life for residents,” said Natalie Pruett, executive director of the Flint Police Foundation and author of Flint’s former blight-elimination framework.
Officials gave the presentation, which shares findings from the soon-to-be published “Beyond Blight 2022” report, to Flint Neighborhoods United on April 2.
That report covers the current state of blight in Flint as well as the community’s desired actions, incorporating the results of a recent Blight Priorities Survey. In that survey the majority of respondents said demolition is the “most important activity” to address Flint’s ongoing blight concerns.
“Demolition may be the single most important activity,” Pruett said, pointing to a list of survey feedback on her presentation slide. “But mowing, addressing illegal dumping, rehabbing buildings, doing code enforcement, and then reusing these vacant lots? These things also need to be done.”
Pruett shared some of Flint’s current blights statistics: one of every four houses in Flint is considered vacant or blighted—as is one of every three buildings—and one of every three parcels is a vacant lot.
“The total number that we come up with here is about 25,500 properties citywide that very well may need some kind of blight intervention,” Pruett said.
“I mean, it could be 20 (properties) and I would be disheartened because we need to have better solutions for this,” said Michael Freeman, GCLBA executive director, in a separate interview with Flint Beat. “But quite honestly … we actually now are seeing a reversal in the trends and neighborhood conditions.”
Freeman noted that while Flint’s blight numbers might seem dispiriting, the city’s housing stock is actually in better condition than it was ten years ago—“average house condition” improved for the first time between 2017 and 2021—and housing values have begun to increase as demolitions are completed.
“Due to the work that’s been done in the last eight years,” added Pruett, “citywide we did find that overall housing vacancy rates have declined.”
Still, when the former Beyond Blight report was published in 2015, there were roughly 19,800 properties in need of blight elimination compared to today’s nearly 25,500, which Pruett and Freeman understood can seem discouraging even knowing the city’s interim progress.
“You know, when people left Flint, they didn’t take their houses with them,” Freeman said. “We’re dealing with that like every single day.”
During the presentation to FNU, Pruett also gave highlights from the city and land bank’s blight elimination efforts over the past eight years.
She noted more than 5,300 blighted structures have been demolished, over 1,800 homes have been rehabilitated, and over 50,000 tons of illegal dumping has been removed by “local partners, community groups, and residents.”
Pruett said these activities were making strides in eliminating blight, but that between Flint’s vacant and blighted property maintenance, demolition, boarding, and dumping enforcement needs, it will still cost around $154 million to remove blight over the next five years.
“And what that includes is $106 million for demolition alone,” Pruett said, before noting that part of the updated blight elimination plan requires continuing fundraising for demolitions, which cost an average of about $15,000 per home.
“I’m hoping we can get ahead of this,” Freeman said. “And we can then start focusing—instead of having to put all this money into demolishing structures—we can actually start putting it into redeveloping or creating more housing opportunities.”
Mayor Sheldon Neeley represented the City of Flint during the presentation. He said that resident feedback on how to spend the city’s $94.7 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding has shown “public safety and blight reduction was key.”
To that end, Neeley’s office has a resolution before Flint City Council’s finance committee April 6 which asks for $16 million of the city’s ARPA dollars to be put toward blight elimination in the city.
According to the resolution, the GCLBA plans to combine that money with $8 million provided by Genesee County and $21.3 million from other sources, meaning Flint’s blight elimination plan will have at least $45 million in funding should the resolution be approved.
Pruett concluded the Beyond Blight 2022 presentation by going through suggested next steps for managing and eliminating Flint’s blight.
Those steps included a host of five-year benchmarks—demolish 4,600 structures, reuse 5,000 vacant lots, reduce illegal dumping by 20% annually—and a call to collaborate across local government, community groups, businesses, and residents.
“The truth is that no organization can do this by itself,” Pruett said. “We need strong and dedicated partnership between all community members to eliminate blight in Flint.”
The Beyond Blight 2022 report has not yet been published, nor has its joint presentation from the city, GCLBA, and Flint Police Foundation been made available. Pruett said she expects both to be made publicly accessible in the next few weeks.
Should the mayor’s funding resolution for blight elimination be approved at city council’s April 6 finance committee meeting, it will then need to go before council for a final vote.