By Tom Travis
Housing was a key factor considered in an economic development round-table held Monday upstairs in Flint’s Farmers Market. The meeting was organized by recently-elected State Representative Jasper Martus and his special guest the new Speaker of the House in Michigan’s legislature Rep. Joe Tate (D-2nd District).
Tate listened and jotted notes as Martus (D-69th District) along with about a dozen Flint business leaders, entrepreneurs and housing organizers introduced themselves and offered ideas. Tate, introducing himself to the group, offered a sports analogy in an effort to explain how politics operates in Lansing saying, “The Governor plays golf. The Senate plays volleyball. And in the House we play football.”
Among those participating in the round table were
— Director of Economic Development for Flint & Genesee Group (formerly the Chamber of Commerce) Tyler Rossmaessler
— Business Development Manager of Flint & Genesee Group Dylan Luna
— Former State Senator Jim Ananich
— Uptown Reinvestment Corporation’s Redevelopment Coordinator Moses Timlin;
— Michigan State University Center for Community and Economic Development, Regional Economic Innovation Coordinator Jenan Jondy
— Glenn Wilson and Joel Arnold of Communities First, Inc.
— Marquita Adams of Harambee Wellness
— and Director of Youth Initiatives of the Michigan Community Service Commission David Martus and others.
Tate told the group he was there to listen. He said he anticipates future visits to Flint to listen to the community.
Housing and economic development
Several people from housing organizations in Flint offered their thoughts.
“Housing is essential to economic development. If people don’t have a place to live, they either can’t work in local jobs or have to endure arduous and expensive commutes,’ Joel Arnold of Communities First, Inc. asserted.
“It’s critical that the state focus on addressing restrictive land use and zoning policies that block the construction of new housing,” Arnold added. “In many of Michigan’s communities it is illegal to build many kinds of housing, often those that are the most affordable. Addressing barriers like this will help to open up economic opportunity and access to good jobs for all of our neighbors.”
“Ample housing is essential for individuals and families to be able to participate in the workforce” – Moses Timlin
Moses Timlin of the Uptown Development Corporation agreed with Arnold, stating, “Research has consistently shown that the availability of affordable and quality housing can have a significant impact on the overall economic well-being of a community.
“Ample housing is essential for individuals and families to be able to participate in the workforce,” Timlin said. “A lack of affordable housing can hinder people’s quality of life and reduce their economic mobility. However, when there is a sufficient supply of diverse, affordable housing typologies (detached single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, condos, etc.), it can help attract and retain a skilled workforce, stimulate economic growth, and improve overall community prosperity.
“Additionally, the construction and maintenance of housing can also stimulate economic activity by creating construction-related jobs and generating municipal revenue through new property tax collections,” Timlin added.
“Over the last year, URC and the Genesee County Land Bank partnered on rehabbing two historic properties in Flint. All trades hired for the project were local to Genesee County, including a general contractor who lived in the neighborhood where the houses we located,” Timlin said.
“We modernized the 100+ year old structures with an updated open layout, half-bathroom on the first-floor, energy-efficiency functions, and central air to attract a wider array of home seekers. It is our hope that these new Flint homeowners participate in the local economy through both employment and local spending,” he concluded.
“You can have movement on the ground but if you don’t have policy change to support that movement it’s really just obstacle after obstacle” – Jenan Jondy
“These kinds of meetings are very important because you can have movement on the ground, but if you don’t have policy change to support that movement it’s really just coming up obstacle after obstacle,’ Jenan Jondy of Michigan State argued.
“So to have that support from the legislative perspective is critical. This meeting is very hopeful. It means the legislators are reaching out to communities, they’re reaching out to Genesee County and the City of Flint. They’re asking, ‘What do we need to know that is critical for your community and for the success of your business?’ Jondy asked.
Rep. Martus announced during Monday’s round-table that Jondy will be his special guest at the Governor’s State of the State address in Lansing on Wednesday, Jan. 27. Jondy is a Flint native but resides in Lansing where she works. “Flint’s my home,” Jondy said.
Jondy said she didn’t know she was going to be invited by Martus until he announced that during the round-table. “We already know that economic development is going to be one of the things the Governor will discuss in her State of the State address. And this is a critical topic for Flint and Genesee County,” Jondy said.
Jondy said all the facets of economic development are connected, and they’re all important, including housing. She pointed out the importance of housing being considered in an economic development meeting.
“The economy, housing, health aspects are all intertwined. These are braided issues in the community. We’re not talking about just business. But when we talk about economic development we’re talking about sustainable housing, quality of life and living and even things like the protection of our Great Lakes. These are all concerns. And we look at the sense of community within that. When you’re creating these policies to also think about when we do this how are we building and creating community,” she said.
“I think that’s really critical and that’s why I was speaking about community capital and investing. I know I would love to invest in local community businesses and I know other people who love to invest in local community businesses. So how can we do that from a legislative perspective that would encourage and promote individuals within communities to invest in their communities,” Jondy said.
“These meetings are helpful because it feels like our voice is being heard — knowing that our ‘boots on the ground’ and we’re having someone that is in a position to assist and hear our concerns,” said Marquita Adams, founder and owner of Harambee Wellness, a health and fitness company focused on transforming lives through cultivating community through fitness, according to Adams.
“I’m a brainstormer and a lot of the discussion today was about economic development,” Adams said, but added she was glad to hear discussion about housing and quality of life in Flint. “What type of programming or placemaking could take place to create opportunities including making safer neighborhoods and to encourage physical activity for people to feel comfortable walking around their neighborhoods?”
Water Crisis still effects economic development for Flint
“It is something that was very tragic that the people had to endure and no one should have to endure. But I don’t think Flint should be known for the water crisis so we have to create and build our own legacy that people will know us about not something that has happened in the past. We are doing that again by building a sense of community,” Jondy said.
“I think the water crisis had a tremendous impact on our lack of trust,” Adams added. She described this lack of trust in seeing new people come into the community and the people in Flint looking over their shoulder asking, “Okay, what are you here for?” So the water crisis has created a barrier to have access to resources because there is a lack of trust, she said.
“We are committed to advancing economic prosperity in Flint and Genesee County” Tyler Rossmaessler
“We were grateful for the opportunity to share our ideas and thoughts with Speaker Tate and Rep. Martus on crafting economic policy for the next legislative term, ” Tyler Rossmaessler said. “Like all around the table, we are committed to advancing economic prosperity in Flint and Genesee County.”
“In particular, we believe Michigan’s future is at a critical moment because of opportunities from reshoring, semiconductor manufacturing, and the electrification of the automotive industry,” he said. “The policies and success we have in attracting and retaining business investment over the next two years will determine the next two decades of our economic success. We were glad to hear about Speaker Tate’s and Rep. Martus’ commitment to work together to ensure our state and community are the right place for these investments.”
“We will create more frequent opportunities for these types of discussion” – Speaker of the House, Rep. Tate
Tate told EVM after the round-table the discussion about economic development will continue with Flint through himself, Representatives Cynthia Neeley, Martus and State Senator John Cherry. “We will create more frequent opportunities for these types of discussion. This is only the start and we’re looking to see what our roll, those of us in Lansing, what we can do help economic development,” Tate said.
Tate was first elected four years ago to represent Michigan’s 2nd District covering portions of Detroit’s Lower East Side including Grosse Point Park, Grosse Pointe City and Grosse Pointe Farms.
In the State House, with a 56 (Democrats) to 54 (Republican) split, Tate said he expects opposition for sure but said, “We”ll have opportunities to work together with the Republicans and we’ll work across the aisle. Our work will be bipartisan in nature.” Tate asserted the Michigan State House is more collegial and civil than the atmosphere in Washington D.C.
Tate said he decided to run for this office as a part of his “deep and lifelong commitment to public service.” The value of service was taught to him through his parents – a teacher in the Detroit public school system, and a Detroit firefighter. He said his life has been shaped by teamwork, commitment, and community.
As a teenager, Tate earned a scholarship to play football at Michigan State University before joining the National Football League. After the NFL, he served in the United States Marine Corps, deploying twice to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
After an honorable discharge from the Marine Corps, he earned both an M.B.A. and a Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning from the University of Michigan. Before joining the Legislature, Tate helped small businesses grow their capacity as a program manager for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.
Reflecting on the recent events in the U.S. House of Representatives in the election of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Tate told EVM, “It was disappointing to see what took place. Obviously the world is watching us. But I’m hopeful work can get done with Speaker McCarthy and hopeful that he’ll reach across the aisle.”