Flint, MI– The Flint City Council is considering putting $16 million of the city’s American Rescue Plan Act funds into a new program aimed at demolishing blighted structures.

The city is receiving $94.7 million in ARPA funding as part of a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package intended to aid the country in recovering from the pandemic. To determine how to spend the funds, the administration and the council have held community forums to hear from residents about how they want the money to be spent.

Unsurprisingly, fighting blight has been a common answer. 

“It’s really no surprise when you do your public listening sessions for ARPA and you’re hearing people talk about this as one of their top priorities,” said Michael Freeman, director of the Genesee County Land Bank Authority, during the council meeting on April 6. “We hear this every day at the land bank.”

Freeman told the council that there are 7,010 households in the city that have “at least one poor or substandard house next door.”

If an average household has three people living in it, that means more than 21,000 Flint residents–about a quarter of the population– live next to blighted properties.

“This is an issue of environmental justice for people to live in neighborhoods that are safe and secure and sanitary,” Freeman said.

The first step in achieving safe and sanitary neighborhoods, Freeman said, is to demolish blighted homes that are too far gone to be repaired.

To take that step, the GCLBA has developed a $45 million plan to demolish more than 2,000 blighted structures.

According to the resolution document, the city’s $16 million would be combined with $8 million from Genesee County and $21.3 million from other sources, including the State of Michigan and the Mott Foundation.

Although the GCLBA takes in properties from the whole county, the vast majority of the demolitions funded through this proposal would be located in Flint.

Freeman said the plan would fund a total of 2,410 demolitions, about 94% of which (about 2,265 properties) would be in Flint.

He said that the land bank would be selecting structures for demolition using various criteria as well as input from residents and the council.

Councilman Quincy Murphy said he would have liked to see a plan for dealing with nonstructural blight, like illegal dumping on vacant lots, as well.

“We didn’t diversify the dollars to say, not only are we going to tear down houses, but we want to clean up this nonstructural blight that residents have been complaining about,” Murphy said. “Because they’re not only complaining about houses that need to be torn down, they’re complaining about blight that needs to be cleaned up.”

Freeman agreed that nonstructural blight is an issue as well but argued that blighted houses lead to more nonstructural blight. 

“I would assert that these houses in need of demolition … it’s like people see an abandoned house there, and that’s where they dump,” Freeman said. “And so it only exacerbates an issue which is already bad.”

He said demolitions can improve health and well-being for residents, overall block conditions, and the home values of occupied houses nearby. Freeman also said that reducing blight can reduce crime. 

Once the properties are demolished, Freeman said that the program would allocate $1,000 per property to pay for maintenance of the vacant lots over the next five years. 

“So it’s not just, you tear it down and all of a sudden it becomes a field of weeds,” Freeman said. “These will actually be cared for and maintained. … So that comes to roughly about $2.4 million that we’ll put back into the neighborhood, back into the community where people are actually taking care of these properties.”

Councilwoman Tonya Burns said she thought it was important for minority and women-owned organizations to be considered as contractors for this program. 

“As we look at this big package to clean up our city with blight, I want to make sure that I see contractors, women, minorities, Black people. We need to make sure it’s fair,” Burns said. 

Freeman said this was a goal for him as well.

“It is only to our benefit that we have as many potential contractors to draw from. … You want to actually have a competitive bid,” he said. “And we also want to make our minority and female-owned businesses competitive as well, and that they have the tools and ability to then bid on these contracts.”

But the program won’t come to fruition unless the council gives their support soon, Freeman said. He said that once the council backs the plan, other contributors will feel comfortable putting in their funds too. 

“Everybody is trying to make decisions on the money that they have, and so I’ve asked for a significant amount from each one of these organizations … and they have to decide whether or not this whole picture is going to come together or not,” Freeman said. 

He said that it would be ideal for the council to approve the resolution by May 1. 

Councilwoman Judy Priestley, who sits on the council’s ARPA committee, said that county officials told her they would not vote on this unless the city approves it. 

While Council President Eric Mays said he would like to have more discussions about the plan, he said he was looking forward to the partnership with the land bank. 

“I think we’re going to have a partnership at the end of the day, that’s what I think. It’s going to be controversial, because of the land bank, our money, property in Flint, so forth and so on. … We all have an opportunity to try to get our reputations back,” Mays said. 

The council voted unanimously, 7-0, to move the resolution to the special affairs committee meeting before the regular council meeting on Monday, April 11. Councilwoman Ladel Lewis and Councilman Dennis Pfeiffer were absent from the meeting.

Amy Diaz is a journalist hailing from St. Petersburg, FL. She has written for multiple local newspapers in her hometown before becoming a full-time reporter for Flint Beat. When she’s not writing you...