Flint, MI—The Genesee County Land Bank Authority (GCLBA) has a $45.3 million, four-year plan surrounding its much-anticipated demolition program, and while most of that plan is moving along well, officials report, a new hurdle has arisen.
“What we found right now is when we initially did our snapshot of the demolitions, we thought we had 2,415 properties [to demolish]—about 200 of those in the out-county,” Michael Freeman, GCLBA executive director, told Flint City Council on Feb. 13, 2023. “Now we’ve actually found that we have roughly 2,950 properties that need to be demolished and about 300 properties in the out-county.”
Freeman said the added properties mean the land bank will have to raise more money in order to complete all of the demolition needed in and around Flint, as its $45.3 million goal covered the initial number of properties anticipated, not the hundreds more now realized.
Still, he said, the program is moving along at a steady pace, with $43.7 million of planned funding secured and more sources of funding already in the works or identified.
“Good news is that the governor has just signed State Bill 7, which is a new allocation of blight funds where the top 10 largest land banks in the State of Michigan will get $2.5 million automatically,” Freeman told Council, noting that GCLBA is one of those 10.
He also said that there’s another $30 million in “competitive money” that the land bank will be advocating for in support of the additional identified demolitions.
As for how properties were identified for demo, Freeman told Council that criteria for prioritizing demolitions came from residents’ feedback.
“We have the Flint residents tell us exactly where we need to go,” Freeman said, noting that the land bank’s community-informed criteria includes whether a property is close to a park or located in a heavily traveled corridor or high population area.
Freeman noted that with GCLBA’s normally “very limited” funding, a property had to score somewhere between 95-100 on that criteria to be prioritized for demolition.
“But my goal through this program was to be able to accommodate everything that is on demo status,” he said.
While Faith Finholm, grants manager for GCLBA, noted that demolitions should hopefully begin by this April, Councilman Pfeiffer raised concern over the program’s overall 4-year timeline for completion.
“Why do we slow down, given we’re starting so late in 2023 and we’re able to get, we’ll say, 670 or 680 [demolitions] done in the seven month window or eight month window that we have left in the year?” Pfeiffer asked. “Why are we slowing down substantially in 2024?”
Finholm responded that the graph Pfeiffer was referring to is a “shot in time,” showing a trajectory that was set up when funding had been secured for an initial set of properties. However, she said, the land bank does hope to move faster on all demolitions, should funding source timelines and contractor proposals allow.
“We’d like to exceed that,” Finholm said of the demo numbers shown per year, “and get more money and do more demos and save more houses and keep people here. One hundred percent. If we can move faster, we will.”
Fourth Ward Councilwoman Priestley then asked about the order in which the land bank plans to complete demolitions. Finholm said they plan to follow Census tracts because of how American Rescue Plan Act funding “dictated eligibility,” meaning the first demolitions will be happening in Ward 2 and then Ward 1.
“So, Ward 4, who has some of the highest demolition, will be lower down on the list?” Priestley asked. “I find that sad. That’s not fair to my residents who have an arsonist out there, burning down houses all the time, and what am I supposed to tell them?”
Freeman said he was aware of the arson happening on the east side of Flint and took the opportunity to note that arson does not actually help speed up demolition, it just makes matters worse and the land bank’s job more difficult.
“So, you’re right,” he said to Priestley. “I think that we can have ongoing conversations with council people and then, you know, if we can be nimble at all, we will definitely do that. It’s just the challenge of where do you start when everybody wants and needs the assistance.”
While the land bank has a list of currently-funded demolitions on its website, Freeman noted that residents can also visit the Flint Property Portal to check a property’s demolition status and timeline.
He cautioned, however, that GCLBA will not update a property’s demo status until “the ink is dry” on its funding source. Meaning that until money is in-hand, some numbers won’t match up between promised demolition totals in their plan and the number of properties listed in either location at present.
He also added that the land bank will not stop maintaining properties after completing demolition. He said his organization also plans to mow the thousands of vacated lots for the next five years, utilizing its Clean & Green program or selling and leasing the lots to nearby owners.
But, he said, his hope is that GCLBA will be viewed as a source for development rather than solely demolition moving forward.
“I would really hope that the future of the land bank becomes more about supporting development and rebuilding neighborhoods,” Freeman said. “Demo doesn’t solve anything. It’s gonna—it will solve the current issues, but we gotta think about what happens in 10 years.”
More information on the Genesee County Land Bank’s demolition plan, bids, and funded demolition lists, can be found on the organization’s website.