By Nic Custer
More than 890 Genesee County Land Bank-owned homes in Flint will be demolished over the next two years thanks to $11.45 million recently authorized from a final round of Michigan State Housing and Development Authority’s Hardest Hit Fund.
This will bring Flint’s total amount of Hardest Hit funds up to $34.15 million since 2013 and will lead to at least 2,666 demolished properties.
Christina Kelly, Land Bank director of planning and neighborhood revitalization, said the organization will have 18 months to spend the money. The funds will also pay the Land Bank a 5-year property maintenance fee and a $500 administration fee for each property.
Flint’s initial $20.1 million round of Hardest Hit money was expected to fund 1,600 demolitions and ended up demolishing 1,776 properties through $2.6 million in additional funds targeting Civic Park.
In the current round of funding, 900 properties will be identified for demolition and an additional 150 properties will be on a backup list in case there are extra funds available.
The Land Bank recently observed its tenth anniversary, and though its work has occasionally drawn criticism locally, its successes consistently draws praise from state and federal funders, Kelly said.
Flint does it cheaper
Four other Michigan cities, Pontiac, Detroit, Saginaw and Grand Rapids, received initial Hardest Hit funds for demolitions. Compared to these other cities, Flint spends $11,600 on average per demolition. This figure is on par with other Michigan cities and much less than the $25,000 maximum allowed for each demolition through Hardest Hit. Kelly said a demolition price is based on the local conditions and contractors.
She credits Flint’s efficient use of funds to the abilities of demolition contractors, low prices to dispose of waste at local dumps, the recycling of concrete, cheap access to backfill dirt and a quick turnaround in payment to contractors.
She also said Detroit, for example, may have higher prices for demolitions because they have larger structures and more buildings made of brick.
Demolition involves many steps
The demolition process can take several months before properties are ready to be torn down. A list of properties is first given to Consumers Energy and the water department to cut utilities. Then a demolition inspection and an environmental survey are done to identify asbestos and other hazards in the house. Properties are abated as needed and then demolished. Kelly said Consumers Energy only has a limited number of employees that can do utility cuts so the process will take a while to complete on all 890 properties.
Kelly said there are 1,055 properties in structurally deficit condition within the targeted funding areas. These areas that have been selected based on the Hardest Hit funding criteria.
The funding area includes so called “tipping point” neighborhoods, buffer areas around those neighborhoods and main corridors. A tipping point neighborhood is one that officials predict could potentially stabilize if the blight was removed.
“If we have a stronger market area and it’s surrounded by blight, it will only be a matter of time for the blight to spread. We covered a large portion of the city between the tipping point areas, the buffer zones and the corridors,” Kelly said.
Kelly said as the list is finalized in coming weeks the information will be available publically on the Land Bank website, thelandbank.org.
Many blighted buildings remain
When the Hardest Hit funds are finally depleted, a significant number of the approximately 5,500 blighted buildings in the city will end up being demolished. But Kelly said, “there are a lot of properties in poor condition that we are not able to get to.”
She said although the program targets “structurally deficit” buildings, “poor condition” properties are also blighting neighborhoods. The Land Bank will work with the city to prioritize the list of poor condition properties they own to prepare for potential future demolition funding.
Properties are initially selected for demolition based on the city’s housing condition inventory, which rates buildings on their condition from structurally deficit to good. The Land Bank do their own update inspections on properties and sporadically, they will update records based on complaints or city inspections.
Since Hardest Hit funding began, the Land Bank has hired their own demolition inspector who holds contractors to fix work that is not done well. Previously, the city did final inspection for demolition. While the city does still inspect the houses,
The funding stipulates that the Land Bank must make sure the contractor addresses any outstanding issues before the demolition is closed. One the job is finalized, it takes at least three months before can be adopted. Kelly said that right now there is a backlog of applications to purchase side lots but the Land Bank is willing to take lease or adoption applications as soon as the final list of properties is released to the public.
Clover plantings better than grass
She said planting clover instead of low mow grass on vacant lots has worked well, and the Land Bank is pleased with the appearance of it compared to the grass, which is easily outcompeted by weeds. The clover costs about the same to plant as grass but it is more in line with the Land Bank’s current schedule of mowing once or twice per year and prevents dumping because it’s so low. Overtime, the clover saves money, reducing the need to mow and clean up trash.
Other alternative plantings have been considered including ornamental trees that helped with water retention. But Kelly said after getting specs done with the EPA, they determined it was too expensive. She said they may seek additional funding to pay for tree plantings.
Flint a demolition “rock star”
Kelly said the Land Bank is doing the best they can with the resources they have but they are always looking for more resources. She said there are no additional demolition funding programs available at the moment but Flint has built up a lot of goodwill and faith at state and federal level. She even said a grant manager at MSHDA called the city “rockstars of Hardest Hit,” and said Flint gets the work done and gets it done well.
That goodwill keeps the possibility open for future funding. In the last round of Hardest Hit funding, Flint requested additional funding after completing its contracts, and was given $560,000 in reprogrammed funds to have 42 emergency demolitions added the list.
The city’s blight framework, which came out of the master plan process, is helpful for laying out the scale and scope of the problem and saying this is how the city can accomplish pieces of it. By providing the data to state lawmakers, they are better able to make a funding argument for Flint.
Land Bank credits Kildee
Kelly said she is grateful for Congressman Dan Kildee (Fifth District) because blight is not a topic many people are willing to take on. Kildee helped start the Land Bank a decade ago. “We don’t have to pitch and make a case and explain, we can just send a quick email,” Kelly said. “It’s great having that ally, and having someone understand the challenge.”
Hardest Hit funds only pay for residential demolitions but Kelly said she made Kildee aware that commercial demos are a priority going forward. These demolitions can be expensive and there are often environmental contamination issues, which can be complicated to deal with.
The Hardest Hit Fund is a portion of the 2008 federal Troubled Asset Relief Fund, which was created to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. $3.2 billion of the original Hardest Hit Fund was unspent and reprogrammed nationwide.
New documentary observes 10th anniversary
The Land Bank just released a documentary online to celebrate its ten-year anniversary. Kelly said there are misperceptions about what the Land Bank does in the community and it gets a lot of anger for holding vacant properties. She encouraged residents to watch the video and get a better sense of what the Land Bank does. The video is available to watch free on the Land Bank’s website.
Nic Custer, EVM managing editor, can be reached at nicEastvillage@gmail.com.