By Coner Segren
Even though Genesee County has received about $67.5 million through the federal Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) to eliminate blight—funds which have funded demolition of 5,000 vacant properties—much more is needed, U.S. Fifth District Congressman Dan Kildee told participants at the March meeting of Flint Neighborhoods United (FNU).
Addressing residents’ concerns about how best to continue fighting blight in Flint, Kildee noted the Genesee County Land Bank—of which Kildee was the first director—still estimates an additional 8000 properties need to come down, and the money is beginning to run out. [Editor’s Note: The Land Bank informed EVM after the meeting that they had provided an incorrect number of properties that need to come down. The correct number is 1,500 properties, not 8,000.]
Many of the properties left over are commercial, which the U.S. Treasury Dept. has so far declined to fund for HHF demolition, Kildee said. He added that one of his goals is to get HHF funds that have gone unused by other communities less affected by blight redirected specifically to places like Michigan and Ohio where blight is most severe.
Kildee also stressed the need to go beyond clean-up and move toward getting more dollars for residential and commercial redevelopment, as well as rehabilitating properties that are run-down yet still have owners.
In describing what may be required to address urban blight, Kildee called for a “Marshall Plan” for older American cities–referring to the massive investment and recovery plan the United States carried out to help Europe rebuild following WWII.
“What I’ve been pushing for is a specific set of investments that deal with the unique challenges in our older communities that have high unemployment, high poverty rates, high crime rates, lots of abandonment and housing that is not equal to the needs of the people,” he said. “In places like Flint, Youngstown, Ohio, and Gary, Indiana we need a jumpstart and that’s what I’m looking to try to create.”
In other business the FNU group — a coalition of neighborhood group leaders and concerned citizens — heard about:
- a new web portal to collect and disseminate neighborhood information,
- a distracted driving task force and a suicide prevention effort
- the significance of the Flint Community Schools millage (passed Tuesday night).
- cases made by several candidates for district court and circuit court judgeships
Flint Mapping Project seeks to bring community groups together
The Neighborhood Engagement Hub (NEH) has launched a new web portal designed to make neighborhood information more available to community members.
Ashley Everhart, NEH agency director, demonstrated the new platform. Prior to this effort, she explained, there were about six different neighborhood directories split between places like the NEH, FNU, the Ruth Mott Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint.
“The purpose was to take all of those different directories and consolidate them and list and cull it so that we knew that we had the correct information,” Everhart said. She said interns with the NEH brought the lists together and contacted every organization to make sure their information was up to date, including meeting times, locations, and contact info.
The goal in the long term, she said, is for the database to be interactive, so any organization that needs to can update their info on their own should the need arise.
Several residents expressed concern about access for those who lack computer or internet. To make up that gap, the NEH hopes to connect more people with community centers and other places that can provide computer access.
“Our hope is that we can use this tool to get them connected,” Mrs. Everhart said. “If we can get them connected at a community center or when the public library opens back up then we can make that resource available.” For younger people who may not have a computer, but do have a smartphone, the web portal can be accessed by mobile device.
Distracted driving remains huge risk on roads
More people are killed every year from distracted driving than drunk driving, according to Kate Cole from the Taming Traffic Task Force (TTTF) in a presentation to the FNU. And distraction is not limited to just texting. Even more innocuous seeming activities, like eating or drinking, also pose a huge risk, she said.
Speeding is also a major concern of the task force. The TTTF has collected data from the radar sign posted at the section of Cornelia Ave. around Doyle-Rider Elementary, for example, which shows that every week roughly 50 drivers exceed the speed limit in a school zone.
Several residents expressed concern over a lack of a distracted driving ordinance in Flint. While statewide law prohibits the use of cell-phones while operating a vehicle, several cities, such as Swartz Creek, Troy, and Battle Creek have gone further by adopting their own local ordinances to combat distracted driving, Cole said.
Significance of the Flint Community Schools millage
A renewal for Flint Community Schools [approved by voters March 10] renews the original measure which had been passed in 2010. Matthew Sylvester, a representative for the Flint Teachers Union, stressed that the measure will not raise taxes. The millage will keep rates the same as they have been, with the aim of dividing the revenue between Fiscal Stability Bonds to service the county’s debt, and Sinking Fund Dollars for infrastructure.
The measures come at a time when the district also is consolidating school buildings to reduce costs. The school board has ruled out closing elementary schools in response to an outcry from the local community, and Sylvester reiterated Flint Schools’ commitment to keeping class sizes low and wages for teachers competitive.
Organizations Partners Suicide Prevention
St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church has partnered with the Sheriff’s Department and Genesee Health Services (GHS) to raise suicide awareness in the Genesee County area. Citing reticence among some residents to go to the GHS, St. Marks, located on Dupont St. will take calls and direct people to appropriate services to aid suicide prevention in the county. St. Mark’s has also partnered with Kettering University, which has expressed concern about the stress facing students and young people in general.
Candidates for District Court Judge make their cases
Two candidates vying for the seat of district court judge Nathanial C. Perry stopped by Saturday to make their case to voters. Heather Burnash and Torchio Feaster are both local Flint attorneys who have deep ties to the city.
Feaster has served as an officer on the city’s Blight Court for the past year. Burnash served for ten years on the Historic District Commission.
Speaking about what distinguished her candidacy, Burnash said district court is the only court where domestic violence cases are decided, and all four sitting judges are men. “I think it’s important that a woman be part of that conversation and be sitting in on that decision-making process,” she said.
Judge Herman Marable, Jr. running for Circuit Court seat
Judge Herman Marable, Jr. circulated a petition to run for the Circuit Court seat being vacated by judge Richard B. Yuille. With Judge Yuille’s retirement, it will be the first time in living memory that a Flint resident will not hold any of the seats on the circuit court.
Marable, a Flint resident for 57 years, expressed concern about the potential for a lack of representation for Flint residents. He also cited a desire to reform jury selection processes as a major concern. Flint jury questionnaires are only allowed to be filled out electronically, posing a problem for people without internet access. “So you know who’s being cut out,” he said. “When they make those decisions someone from Flint needs to be in the room to say what everyone in this room knows.”
EVM Staff Writer Coner Segren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM Staff Writer and columnist Teddy Robertson contributed to this story. She can be reached at email@example.com.