Flint, MI—The Flint Housing Commission is partnering with the city of Flint to plan for the future of River Park Townhomes on the city’s northside.

The entities entered a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in order to seek a $500,000 Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Planning Grant for the public housing development. It is similar to what they did for another property, Atherton East, in 2015.

While the Atherton East plan was ultimately awarded a further $30 million dollars to build a new site, relocate residents to it, and demolish the former property, officials stressed that they are still in the early stages of planning for River Park Townhomes.

“We have not made any definite decisions yet on what we will be doing with River Park,” said Harold Ince Jr., Executive Director of the Flint Housing Commission. But, he added, his team had already begun meeting with the townhomes’ residents as of late July.

While the plan for River Park is in its infancy, the need for that plan is definite.

“The development is isolated from employment and retail opportunities and has limited transit access,” read the memorandum’s submission document. “The area suffers from high crime and poverty. It is segregated with respect to race and income, and residents are not integrated into the broader community.”

Aside from all of that, Ince Jr. said, there are also plans for an Ajax Material Corp asphalt plant to be built nearby.

River Park Townhomes stand at the border of Flint and Genesee Twp., Mich, less than a mile from the plant’s planned site. 

In November 2021, the asphalt plant was met with protest from Flint residents after an initial air permit was approved by the Michigan Department of Great Lakes and Energy—a decision Flint City Council voted to appeal earlier this year.

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

Flint City Councilwoman Allie Herkenroder pointed to the plant when the council voted unanimously to approve the MOU between the city and Flint Housing Commission on July 25, 2022.

“It’s on the north end of Flint in an industrial area with Ajax, and being able to help right historic wrongs through the Choice Grant is something I’m very excited to support,” Herkenroder said.

The MOU approval comes on the heels of the city’s adoption of its new zoning code, which designates the River Park Townhomes area as a green neighborhood, defined as consisting of “single-family residential uses with community gardens, small scale urban-agriculture, and small amounts of open space intermixed.”

Jason Borror, Flint Housing Commission Director of Development, said that is something the planning process will need to take into account should the commission receive the grant.

“You get input from residents and community and surrounding areas of what do we want in our community,” Borror said. “Then it starts incorporating some of the city’s goals and zonings and master plan for the area.”

Borror added that the planning process will also need take into account the wants and needs of other property owners surrounding River Park Townhomes, at which point the commission will then combine all its feedback and develop a solution.

Choice Neighborhood Initiative grants are highly competitive, said Borror, so while the city and commission are hopeful to repeat the funding wins of Atherton East, they know it’s a long shot.

“We have a one in a zillion chance,” Ince Jr. said of receiving the grant, which is issued through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

“There’s a chance that we don’t get it,” Borror continued. “But we go back in the next opportunity for the same type of thing, and maybe we make adjustments to our application to make sure that we score the best, and maybe HUD changes how they score things or makes more money available.”

Both leaders said that regardless of the success of this initial application, the commission would continue to apply for Choice Neighborhoods Initiative funding on behalf of River Park Townhomes residents.

“The goal of Choice is to improve the lives of our residents, socially and economically,” Ince Jr. said. “And part of that would be improving where they live.”

Ince Jr. estimated that HUD would not issue a decision on the commission’s planning grant application until October 2022 at the earliest.

In the meantime, Flint City Council also approved payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreements for four other Flint Housing Commission properties—Howard Estates, Mince Manor Apartments, Centerview Apartments, and Aldridge Place—on July 11, 2022.

Those agreements will help the commission to move forward on a nearly $70 million improvement plan for those sites while awaiting HUD’s decision on River Park Townhomes.

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....