Early headlines surrounding a $500,000 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant to the Flint Housing Commission (FHC) noted the funding could spell demolition for River Park Townhouses, a public housing complex on Flint’s north side. That’s not exactly accurate.

Flint, MI–Recent headlines regarding a HUD grant to the Flint Housing Commission and City of Flint have focused on the money being a precursor to demolition for River Park Townhouses, but officials say it’s too soon to say demo.

“Let’s slow down on that,” said Harold Ince Jr., executive director of the housing commission, when asked about the public housing complex’s potential tear down.

FHC’s recent $500,000 grant award, known as a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant, is meant to help the commission and city develop a transformational plan for a region of Flint’s north side. 

That region is bounded by Dupont Street to the west, Stewart Avenue to the south, Carpenter Road to the north and Branch Road to the east—an area that includes the grant’s target housing site of River Park Townhouses, a FHC community.

“The goal of the planning grant is to revitalize distressed public housing in the neighborhood, and to create economic and social opportunities for low-income residents and to mix income in our developments,” explained Ince Jr.

“So it’s focused on the residents, the public housing property of River Park, but it’s intended to make sure that it’s not just throwing money at housing—a box with walls,” added Jason Borror, director of development at FHC. “It makes sure that the neighborhood that surrounds the community can stabilize and support and be where people want to live.”

Both FHC representatives emphasized that the grant was meant to help fund plan-creation efforts—community meetings, developing provider partnerships and the like—not any actual redevelopment construction. 

Of course, Ince Jr. noted, the hope is that with a solid plan created, the commission will then also be a strong candidate for a later implementation grant from HUD.

“We submitted the grant because of the asphalt plant that’s going in and the environmental issues that will come along with that… But ultimately if the residents want to stay there, then we are going to figure out a way to make it happen right there.”

Flint Housing Commission Executive Director Harold Ince Jr.

In the meantime, the executive director clarified there is not yet any plan for River Park or the surrounding neighborhood, so reports of the grant leading to the complex’s demolition are premature.

“We will not go in and say, ‘This is what’s going to happen.’ We will have meetings all through the planning and if we get funded,” Ince Jr. said. “We submitted the grant because of the asphalt plant that’s going in and the environmental issues that will come along with that—noise pollution, trucks, environmental pollution. But ultimately if the residents want to stay there, then we are going to figure out a way to make it happen right there.”

A sign protesting a proposed Ajax Materials Corporation asphalt plant outside of St. Francis Prayer Center in Genesee Twp., Mich. The center is across the street from River Park Townhouses, whose owner, Flint Housing Commission, received grant money to support a plan for potential renovation or relocation for residents in part due to the proposed asphalt plant’s proximity to the public housing development. Both River Park and St. Francis are under a mile from the plant’s possible location. (Kate Stockrahm | Flint Beat)

Reports of River Park’s potential demolition followed the city of Flint’s press release on the grant award, which connected the new effort to a former Choice Neighborhood project targeting south Flint and Atherton East, another FHC public housing complex.

That former planing and implementation process did result in the demolition of Atherton, though the circumstances surrounding its razing and relocation partially came from the site’s floodplain location.

Ince Jr. said the ultimate plan for River Park “may include demo” because the townhomes were built in 1968 and “the infrastructure is not conducive to today’s living.”

But, he cautioned, “there is no plan for demolition” at this stage in the process.

“Right now, we have no plan,” Ince Jr. repeated. “There are ideas being floated, but there are no plans. So whatever the residents come up with, with the housing commission and the city, will be what ends up happening.”

One idea Ince Jr. offered is that the neighborhood’s transformation plan should help attract further development, like a grocery store, which Flint’s north side has been lacking for some time.

“There’s a reason Krogers, Meijers and all these [major grocery chains] have not opened over there,” Ince Jr. said, noting the area’s lack of investment, population, and low-income. “So it will be convincing them that with this grant there will be, probably, more income, and by doing such a major redevelopment and improving the neighborhood we’re hoping we will attract other developers as well, which would also increase population over there.”

Flint’s Choice Neighborhood Planning Grant was announced by HUD on Dec. 22, 2022 and has a two-year implementation timeline. 

Borror said the housing commission has already begun the process of reaching out to River Park residents to meet and gather ideas they have for their community. Per a previous memorandum of understanding regarding the grant, the City of Flint is set to support feedback and planning efforts in tandem with the commission.

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....