By Coner Segren
Federal “Hardest Hit Fund” dollars appropriated to Flint expired this year, leaving the Genesee County Land Bank without a large source of funds. These funds were key to demolitions in Flint, the Land Bank’s Christina Kelly told participants in a November Zoom meeting of Flint Neighborhoods United (FNU).
Kelly, the Land Bank’s director of planning and neighborhood revitalization, reported that out of a total of 8,300 demolitions, nearly 5,000 have occurred since 2014 when the Land Bank was receiving a large amount of federal aid.
“We know that there are still lots of demos out there. We currently don’t have a large source of federal funding like we recently had,” she said. “But we are receiving some limited funding for demolition moving forward, and we want to create a decision-making framework for us to select and prioritize demolitions with limited funding.”
Formed in 2004, as described on its website, The Land Bank’s mission is “to restore value to the community by acquiring, developing and selling vacant and abandoned properties in cooperation with stakeholders who value responsible land ownership.”
The Land Bank was created in response to a tax-foreclosure crisis in the City of Flint. It receives and manages properties from the city treasurer that have been foreclosed on, due to non-payment of taxes. Since then, Kelly asserted, it has become an important community redevelopment tool.
“Essentially, we get what I think are the orphan properties, you have local units of government that have taken a pass on these properties and they end up with us,” said Michael Freeman, executive director of the Land Bank. “But we are also more than that. We are a community development tool. Once those properties are transferred over to us, we are able to work with community residents and engage stakeholders in the future of these properties.”
As part of its commitment to community development, the Land Bank does not simply sell parcels or houses to the highest bidder as occurred under the old auction system, Freeman stated.
“We look at the application, we want to make sure that it’s affordable for the applicant, and we also require that they take a homeownership class prior to entering into a land contract,” said Raynetta Speed, community relations manager for the Land Bank. “We want to make sure before entering into a land contract that we are not getting this property back in the future. We really seek to be a partner in the community, promoting affordable and responsible homeownership.”
Since its inception the Lank Bank has accepted approximately 27,000 tax-foreclosed properties. According to Freeman, the current inventory of the Land Bank is 13,382 in the City of Flint alone. This amounts to 28% of all land parcels in the City of Flint. Their inventory number rises to over 15,000 including out-counties around Flint.
Without the Hardest Hit Fund, the Land Bank is turning toward new sources of funding. Some new funds have come courtesy of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s Focus on Flint Initiative. According to Kelly, a total of $448,029 has been disbursed to the Land Bank from the Foundation. The funds were allocated according to input from residents through a Focus on Flint survey. Among the priorities listed, residents voted to demolish vacant properties, properties that are burned, and properties on the Flint Property Portal that are in need of demolition, without available funds to do so.
However, Kelly said that while the Mott funds are much needed, they will only allow for about 30 to 35 “strategic demolitions.” There are currently 4,706 blighted properties in the City of Flint. According to the Flint Property Portal, 2,922 of those blighted properties are currently owned by the Land Bank.
According to Kelly’s estimates, it would take $41.6 million dollars to demolish all 2,922 properties. And even just demolishing properties on the Land Bank’s unfunded demo list would cost $17.8 million.
“The abatement can be quite expensive, but it is essential so that as you’re demolishing, you’re not releasing [hazardous materials] into the air and impacting residents” said Kelly.
With limited funds, the Land Bank is prioritizing demolitions based on community input gathered during the master planning process and updates on property conditions posted on the Flint Property Portal. The Imagine Flint master plan for the city, approved by the city council back in 2015, groups properties into three tiers. The Land Bank is prioritizing tier 1 properties, meaning properties in neighborhood demolition.
The Land Bank staff are soliciting community feedback about what kinds of properties should be prioritized for demolition. A survey can be completed by Flint residents at https://forms.gle/xdeomuP7UDmpn4936
Clean and Green program making communities safer, evidence suggests
In further descriptions of the Land Bank’s work, Speed summarized and updated FNU residents on the Clean and Green community maintenance program has been found to lower crime rates in areas where it does upkeep. A ten-year study of the program by U of M-Ann Arbor found that in areas where the group mows tall grass and boards up open windows, there are 30% fewer assaults than in areas without upkeep, as well as 40% fewer violent crimes overall.
“These are just two of the reasons why the Clean and Green program is so popular and strong,” said Speed. “Residents want to keep their neighborhoods clean and safe.”
As part of the Clean and Green program, Land Bank crews and other community groups have mowed a total of over 22,000 vacant lots, according to Speed. Land Bank crews have also removed over 630 tons of trash from vacant properties, and boarded and secured 500 buildings. The Land Bank, overall, has spent an estimated $2 million on community maintenance.
However, more funding is needed to keep pace with grass growth and building degradation. Speed estimated that it would cost $7 million annually to mow tall grass and remove trash from the more than 20,000 vacant properties in Flint on a monthly basis from spring to the summer. It would also cost a further $845,000 to board up vacant properties with open doors and windows.
Speeding continues to pose threat to community safety
Data from the Traffic Taming Taskforce presented to the FNU participants shows an alarming number of traffic violations at a number of site where speed radar signs are collecting information. On Miller Road alone, over the past 30 days 44 vehicles have been recorded traveling at more than 75 mph in a 35-mph zone. This means that only 23% of the drivers in that area are compliant with the speed limit, with 45% being considered medium to high risk.
In response, TTT director Kay Cole suggested the implementation of cameras to ticket people who run red lights. According to Cole, such technology has been used effectively in places like Des Moines, Iowa, where five cameras are responsible for issuing 10,921 tickets.
Positive COVID case linked to funeral service
According to a representatives from the Genesee County Health Department, at least one positive case of COVID-19 has been linked to a funeral service held at Sharp Funeral Homes in Fenton. The service was held at the 1000 Silver Lake Rd. location. The GCHD encouraged all attendees to get tested and report any illness to their local health department. Any attendees feeling symptoms are advised to quarantine for at least two weeks.
See www.gchd.us/coronavirus for testing sites and quarantine instructions.
New Mott Foundation funds to help repair senior homes
The Mott Foundation’s Focus on Flint Initiative disbursed $121,406 to The Genesee County Habitat for Humanity to provide home maintenance and repair services for seniors living in Flint, Mott Foundation president and CEO Ridgway White told the FNU participants. Residents themselves voted on how best to spend $1 million the Mott Foundation pledged to strengthen Flint communities, he explained.
“We’re excited to see work beginning on projects residents told us were important to them,” White said. “And our support for strengthening neighborhoods won’t stop here. We’ll be announcing more of these grants soon, and we’ll continue to seek input from Flint residents about their priorities for their neighborhoods and the community as a whole.”
The program includes repairs for anything that health- or code-related, including roofs, structural damage, porch repair, electric, plumbing, HVAC, handicap accessibility, siding, exterior paint, weatherization or energy efficiency upgrades, depending on available funding.
In order to be eligible for funding, a person must be a Flint resident who owns their home, at least 60 years old, as well as at or under 120% of the area median income based on household size.
This grant is part of a series of 8 projects to be fully or partially funded by a $1 million dollar grant provided by the Mott Foundation. For a list of what projects resident voted on, you can go to focusonflint.org/updates.
Residents can get more information on this program, as well as other home improvement programs run by Genesee County Habitat for Humanity, by visiting geneseehabitat.org/home-repair.html or by calling 810-766-9089 ext. 213.
Flint Innovative Solutions aims to close technology gap among African-Americans
Flint Innovative Solutions (FIS) recently received funds from the Community Foundation of Greater Flint to provide increased access to technology for African-American and Latinx students. The FIS is providing classes to increase literacy in online applications such as Zoom, as well as training in how to use laptops and smartphones. There are also K-12 tutoring services available to help students cope with distanced learning.
All in-person tutoring sessions are socially distancing compliant, and masks are required.
If you know of a Genesee County student in the need of academic support, please share this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/FIS_Tutoring
For anyone interested in tutoring, visit this website for more information: http://flintinnovativesolutions.org/tutoring/
EVM Staff Writer Coner Segren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.