New housing development coming to Flint—could be first of three

FLINT, Michigan—In the basement, sitting in a stripped down meeting room of Flint City Hall, Kristin Stevenson is pouring over a glossy booklet titled, “The South Flint Community Plan.” The city planner is showcasing new developments for city residents who now live near Thread Creek in the neighborhood called Atherton East.

Stevenson is slightly soft spoken, but her voice picks up speed, and grows in strength when she starts talking about the people and the grant project she’s been working on for the last three years.

Atherton East was identified early on as public housing needing repairs. Built illegally in the late 1960s, the community was a part of the city’s then-master plan to provide public housing to residents displaced by the building of I-475. That city plan dismantled the once strong St. John neighborhood and the ill-fated Atherton East replacement housing was built on a floodplain causing it to quickly erode with flooding and disrepair.

“We’re shut off from the city,” says Atherton East resident Tiffany Mayers. “Just getting to work or to the store became a challenge,” said Mayers. Mayers says she was approached by the city in 2014 about moving and was ecstatic when she learned about the plans to create a new housing community.

“We have always had issues with flooding or with crime and when you’re already cut off, it puts you in a certain mindset that you’re on your own,” the mother and military veteran said. “We are so excited about these developments, the city office has done a great job in reaching out and taking us through the process.”

The Choice Neighborhoods plan is to move residents from Atherton East into mixed income housing with closer employment opportunities, improved planning and increased safety.

The first location will be at the corner of Williams Street and North Saginaw Street, across the street from University Park Estates—a 160-home subdivision built in the late 1990s. The development will include community and commercial space along with single-family, attached townhouses, Stevenson said.

“Town-homes is what Atherton East is now, and we hear from a lot of residents that is what they really wanted to see,” she said.

Of the 62 townhomes being built, 39 will be public housing, seven will be market rate and the rest will be targeted affordable housing. The development is designed “with a true mix of housing, to create a platform for sustainable growth in giving residents new opportunities for employment, transportation and growth. … It all starts with better housing,” Stevenson said.

And, this could be the first of several new neighborhoods being built in Flint if the entire four-phase project is implemented.

The Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, formerly known as Hope 6, is a program from the Obama era. The grants are designed to revitalize distressed neighborhoods for planning and implementation phases. The city received a planning grant for $500,000 in 2014. It is now requesting $30 million as part of a development grant submitted this week.

If awarded, the grant would allow the effort to expand to the Regency housing complexes adjacent to Atherton East. New neighborhood development is being eyed along South Saginaw Street, south of I-69 and west of I-475, as well as further south along South Saginaw Street between Hemphill and Atherton roads.

The developments are just part of the massive plan outlined in a 136-page document (download it here) that also includes creation of educational and employment opportunities, ensuring access to public transportation, elimination of abandoned buildings, planting gardens, and increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

It is all part of an effort to make sure that Flint has neighborhood options to offer families. City officials have been using a hashtag on social media— #MyChoiceIsFlint—to help show support for the redevelopment plans and living in Flint.

“I’m from Flint…  I grew up here, I went to high school here,” she said. “I grew up in Mott Park and it was a great childhood, with lots of friends and reflecting back, I’m glad that I got to experience that and I think it sad that now there are many kids that didn’t get to experience that,” Stevenson said.

As part of the planning process, Stevenson and Thread Creek residents took bus trips to Detroit, Grand Rapids and Indianapolis to look at quality public housing developments in those cities. “We got a lot of good feedback on those trips with a lot of community meetings,” she said.

The process also included a needs assessment to make sure a new development would better serve what residents wanted in terms of education, healthcare, and transportation. The city hired neighborhood residents to conduct the assessment.

Mayer said that seeing the opportunity and having the ability to lead the process made her an early supporter. “We were able to see what was working in other places, and that really put a lot of folks’ concerns to rest—because the housing we saw was so nice, so much better than what people could imagine ever having,” said Mayer's, community president and outreach coordinator for Atherton East and Choice Neighborhoods. “That was what brought me around early, we were involved in looking at sites, models, and even choosing the developer for the project… I think there is a lot of excitement, because people will be moving into new homes and that these long awaited good things are actually going to happen.”

Atherton East resident Althea Manigault says she, “will miss my view of water” on Thread Creek from her home in Atherton East. Her house is on a hill and doesn’t experience the same flooding some of her neighbors see and the Philadelphia native said she has never felt unsafe at Atherton East.
“Having a great view with peace and quiet is nice. I’ve never had a want to relocate, even being out here in a floodplain,” Manigault said.  “I guess if I wasn’t able to come and go as I please or if I had to deal with all the flooding that others have had to deal with I would feel differently.”

She paused then and added: “I do look forward to moving to the new home, and I’ve seen what they all have planned for the new houses. They do look nice” she chuckled. “You know moving is always a stress and I’ll miss my water view, but being closer to a city that’s growing back is exciting, and I’ll have some help getting there, so it’s hard to complain with so many new opportunities.”

A conceptual drawing of the new townhouses that will be built for residents currently living in Atherton East. The drawing is included in the South Flint Community Plan, a 136-page plan that is seeking a $30 million federal grant.

Read more articles by Jake Carah.