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This story is a part of a weekly series in which Flint Beat explores the issues and concerns of resident in each ward, as well as each council candidate, leading up to the Aug. 3 primary. For more election coverage, including other stories in this series, visit our elections page.
Flint, MI—Flint’s third ward is just one of two wards that is guaranteed to have a new council representative come election time.
Current third ward councilman, Santino Guerra, is not running for reelection, and there are three other candidates vying for the position.
According to a research study from the University of Michigan-Flint, the third ward is the second largest ward, covering approximately 5.6 square miles. The Flint Water plant is located here, as well as the old Buick City Industrial Park.
The report, which is from 2017, shows that this ward has about 9,700 people, 66% of which are African-American, 28% white, and 4% Hispanic. The median income of the population in Ward 3 is $24,000, with 50% of the population living in poverty, according to the study.
The third ward has the highest amount of park area, and the highest number of religious organizations, but no open schools, the report shows.
Like in many other wards in the city, the top issues for third ward residents are blight and public safety. But another issue for these residents is that they have felt neglected.
They are looking to elect someone who is involved, who will listen to their needs, and uphold the will of their constituents, rather than their own personal beliefs.
Clara Moore has lived in the third ward for more than 40 years. She bought her house when she was just 17 years old, and in September she will be 60. Over the years, she has watched her neighborhood change for the worse—something she said has impacted the value of her home.
Her house, which she said she’s put hundreds of thousands of dollars into renovating over the last four decades, is now only being appraised at $25,000.
“I’ve lived in this house pretty much my whole life,” Moore said. “Where do you think I can start over at my age with $25,000 fighting cancer?”
According to the Flint Property Portal, in the third ward, there are more vacant lots (4,248) than there are buildings (3,571). Less than half of all of the buildings in the ward are listed as being in “good condition.” There are 866 listed as “fair,” 443 as “poor,” and 538 “sub-standard.”
There have been 1,405 demolitions in this ward, and 384 more listed by the Land Bank for demolition. Nine of the listed demolitions are funded.
For Moore, property values and blight are at the top of her list of concerns she would like the next council person to address.
Third ward candidate Quincy Murphy, who sits on the board of review for property tax assessments, said Moore is not the only one with this issue.
“A lot of people’s taxes are going down because the property values are going down,” Murphy said. “But if you go over in the neighborhood, and you improve 10 to 15 houses, that’s going to stabilize that tax base in that neighborhood and over the years, you’ll be able to get that money back in return.”
Murphy has lived in the third ward for 47 years. He serves on the MTA Board, the Land Bank Advisory Board, the Charter Review Commission, and works for Lear Corporation. He said he participates in many various cleanups, from mowing and maintaining the old Jefferson School, to cleaning up Dewey Park, and being a part of the Genesee County Land Bank’s Clean and Green program.
In addition to clean ups, Murphy said homeowners need home repair assistance. But Murphy said that there are barriers that residents are facing to access.
“A lot of people in the third ward own homes, and are struggling to keep their homes afloat and if you invest it into helping them improve their homes, that will stabilize the tax base,” he said. “But a lot of people don’t meet the criteria because they don’t got no homeowners insurance, or they’re behind on their taxes.”
He said a lot of people in this ward have been living in their homes for decades, and want to keep their homes up.
“That’s the American dream,” he said. “The American dream is not to live around blight…a lot of us try to do the blame game, and say oh, the Land Bank needs to do better. Well, what can we do to work with the Land Bank? What can the mayor do? What can the council do? Why don’t we all sit down in a room together and talk and discuss?”
Third ward Candidate A.C. Dumas said blight was the third ward’s biggest issue as well, and said part of the solution is holding different entities accountable.
“We have to hold our businesses accountable. We have to hold absentee landlords accountable,” he said. “We have to hold the Genesee County Land Bank accountable because they own a lot of the blighted property, including structures and abandoned homes.”
Dumas is the Vice President of the Flint chapter of the NAACP, and has been a resident of the third ward for nearly 40 years, and a Flint resident all his life. He remembers when the third ward was “vibrant,” and full of beautiful homes, children, and families. He remembers a thriving business community in the St. John’s area, a “Black Wall Street.”
“If you drive down…any street in the third ward, or on the north side, you’ll see all the abandoned buildings, the burned down buildings,” he said. “You’ll see the liquor stores, the gas stations, and garbage and trash. There’s no vibrant businesses in the third ward, except for the corner stores, and those used to be owned by residents that have lived in Flint and lived in the ward, and now they’re owned by strangers, individuals who do not live in the ward.”
Dumas said he would like to bring businesses back into the third ward, but would not support any kinds of marijuana facilities. He would also like to see funding make it into the third ward, but he said it usually doesn’t.
“The third ward doesn’t have any open schools. I say that because a lot of the funds that come in the city of Flint, the hardest hit funds and so on and so forth, are predicated to communities and neighborhoods that have schools,” he said. “So since the third ward has no schools, we’re not eligible for a lot of the funds that come in.”
He said the third ward was like a child with “special needs.”
“Let’s say for example, you have two children in the family, and you have one with a special need, and the other can do for themselves,” Dumas said. “The special needs child, you have to get up and make sure you cook their breakfast, and you know give more attention to that child that has special needs … the third ward is that special needs child. We need the most attention.”
For Gary Byas, a resident of the third ward and the president of the Foss Avenue Block Club, some of what this ward needs is more police presence, and punishments for illegal dumping, littering, and other crimes.
“People are dumping, and you got people throwing trash out the window,” Byas said. “We need to make some examples of some of the people that do that, and maybe they’ll cut down on it.”
Candidate Kerry Nelson said the council needs to revisit ordinances related to blight, and enact “stiffer penalties” against illegal dumpers.
“This dumping has totally gotten out of hand, and we need to put ordinances in place, or enhance the ordinances that we already have, to make sure that these people that are dumping are punished,” Nelson said. “We have to have something in place to let these people know that you cannot come into our community and trash it up. And most of these people that are doing that are not from the third ward or not even from the Flint area.”
Nelson said he would also like to see “stiffer penalties” for drag racing. He said he has witnessed drag racing first-hand, and has heard complaints from third ward residents, as well.
“There’s an ordinance right now that the city council is looking at, but they keep on tabling it because some say it’s too stiff of a penalty, because if that person is caught driving, and the police catch them, they have a right to take their car. Some people feel that that’s too stiff of a penalty. I don’t,” he said. “I think it needs to be a little stiffer, to be honest with you.”
Nelson has lived in the third ward for over 50 years, and has served on the city council before. He was first elected in 2005 and served four years. He served another four years after that, and then was appointed in 2015 to replace Bryant Nolden who was elected county commissioner. Nelson ran in 2017 and lost to Guerra.
“We need somebody with experience, and I have that experience,” he said. “We need somebody that’s able to start on day one, that knows what the function of the city council is, and can work with administration, even if we can’t see eye to eye on everything. We need to work together to move this city forward.”
But in addition to having a council person who can work with other members of the administration, third ward residents are looking to elect someone who will work with their constituents.
The Council Person
Third ward resident Mark Baldwin said he used to get a lot more support from his council representative than he has in recent years.
Baldwin regularly participates in cleanups around his ward, and other parts of the city. At the citywide cleanup on May 15, Baldwin said he was disappointed. He said the third ward’s clean up was somewhat disorganized, didn’t have an agenda, or a set plan of where they would go or what they would do.
He was also discouraged that his council person was not there.
“When we had that clean up, and it was well publicized, and all the political leaders were notified of it, our councilman didn’t even show up,” Baldwin said. “He didn’t even voice a comment on it. It was like, he could care less.”
He said he wants the next council person to be actively involved in the community, hold town halls, and meet and talk with residents about what they need.
Like Baldwin, Byas said he’s looking for a council person who grew up in the neighborhood, knows what’s going on, and is available to talk to.
“I’d like it to be easy to put my hands on him, and let him know what’s going on,” he said.
Baldwin said the third ward had that when now-County Commissioner Bryant Nolden was their council person.
“We’ve done press conferences together, we’ve done cleanups together, we’ve done other projects and to this day, if he has an event going on at Berston (Fieldhouse), he’ll call me up and ask me if I could help out, and we work together,” Baldwin said. “And ideally, that’s what I’d like to see in public servants, from the councilperson, to people who are appointed to positions, to the mayor. Ideally, you know, that’s what I’d like to see is people working together to create a community.”
Additionally, Baldwin said he feels a lot of current council members are more concerned with their own personal agendas, rather than upholding the will of their constituents.
“A councilperson is there to represent the people, to present the will of the people in that ward. We have nine wards, and there could very well be nine different goals, or issues that are being presented,” he said. “But the councilperson should stick with issues that the public in his ward, the voting citizens in his ward, are concerned with. … His responsibility is to represent us, not represent what he wants for us.”