The Land Bank's Executive Director Michael Freeman provided an update on what the land bank has done this year in a virtual address Thursday night.

Flint, MI– In the first ever State of the Lank Bank Address, Director Michael Freeman discussed the progress they have made, as well as the challenges they have faced this year due to the pandemic and a lack of funds.

The address was hosted virtually Thursday evening at 7 p.m. and streamed on the land bank’s Facebook and Youtube pages. 

Freeman shared that the three main goals of the land bank are blight removal, homeownership, and responsible re-use. 

Right now, Freeman said the land bank owns 13,382 properties, which are 28% of all parcels in Flint. 71% of those properties are residential vacant lots, 25% are residential lots with structures, 3% are commercial vacant lots, and 1% are commercial lots with structures.

“Why do we hold on to them? Because a public body controlling the future of these properties is much better than an auction where you don’t know what’s gonna happen, or these properties are going to end up back in our portfolio,” Freeman said. “They’ll go through tax foreclosure again and be in worse condition than they were before.” 

As far as blight removal, Freeman said the land bank crews, which consist of 35 employees, have removed 1.5 million pounds of debris from vacant properties. They’ve also mowed 17,000 vacant properties, even ones not owned by the land bank, and boarded and secured more than 500 vacant structures.

Freeman also discussed the impacts of the work of the Cleaning Green community-based maintenance program, which 58 community organizations participate in. Freeman said a study done with the University of Michigan found that there were 30% fewer assaults and a 40% decrease in violent crimes in the areas that were cleaned and maintained by these groups.

For homeownership, Freeman said this year, the land bank sold 192 properties, and 9 houses that were renovated by the land bank. Since 2004, they’ve sold 6,843 properties. 

They’ve also sold three commercial structures and 15 vacant lots to businesses and investors this year, and 424 commercial properties since 2004. 

Genesee County Treasurer Deb Cherry said the state of the land bank was “strong despite many challenges that we faced associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the conditions of vacancy, blight and abandonment that our community has faced over the past few decades.”

Freeman said the sales department is behind due to the pandemic, which caused them to stop operations for a period of time. He said they are now working through over 1,000 applications from people looking to buy land bank properties. 

In addition to the pandemic slowing things down, Freeman said they need more funding.

Although the land bank recently received nearly half a million dollars in grant money from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation this year, he said the land bank needs a lot more than that. 

“Our properties that we have don’t come with money, and then the city within their general fund…they don’t have those dollars either,” Freeman said. “So we have a big problem in the community that is as frustrating for us as it is for you.” 

Freeman said it would cost $7 million to mow the lawns of 20,000 problematic vacant properties in Flint once a month during the growing season. 

“Additionally, if we were to try and board and secure every single vacant structure within the city that needed to be boarded, that would be an additional $845,000,” he said. 

Since 2004, the land bank has demolished 8,300 properties, but there are 4,706 more properties that the land bank has cited as needing to be demolished. 2,922 of those properties are currently owned by the land bank, and Freeman said it would take $41.6 million to demolish those. 

“We will continue to try and work on finding those dollars and hopefully, through congressional appropriations like Hardest Hit funds in the future, we can actually start to deal with those properties as well,” Freeman said. 

But the grant funding is a start. 

The Mott grant in particular will go to funding demolitions, and will cover about 32-35 properties.  The land bank put out a survey to residents for feedback about which properties should be prioritized for demolition. 

With 399 responses, Freeman shared the top priorities residents picked: 

  1. Homes directly next door to occupied properties
  2. Homes in areas where more people live, and homes are occupied
  3. Homes near open schools
  4. Homes that are burnt
  5. Homes that have fire insurance funds
  6. Homes near local parks
  7. Homes on or near major roads

With these priorities, the land bank is now working on finding properties that meet this criteria, for demolition that is expected to begin in spring of 2021. 

Freeman shared his vision for the future of the land bank which included a community engaged strategic planning process, targeted housing renovations, building partnership for redevelopment, sustaining community-based property maintenance, and seeking new funding for programming.

He said he was “really excited” about the future of the land bank, and that he and his team would keep it in mind that they can “always do better,” and “always do more.”

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...