$450,000 grant could help remove blighted houses from Brownell-Holmes

FLINT, Michigan -- The Genesee County Land Bank Authority (GCLBA) recently received a $448,029 grant from the Charles Steward Mott Foundation. The money, which will go toward demolishing abandoned properties throughout Flint, could rid Brownell-Holmes of possibly one or more of its abandoned homes. 

Blight in Brownell-Holmes has been a problem for years. Though the Brownell-Holmes Neighborhood Association (BHNA) has been able to secure funding for small beautification projects like repaved sections of sidewalk, lawn care for empty lots, and public art projects among others, one thing out of its grasp has been the demolition of long-forgotten houses.

Now, Brownell-Holmes residents have the opportunity to bring attention to their small corner of Flint. By filling out a survey titled “Selecting & Prioritizing Demolitions with Limited Funding” residents of the neighborhood as well as throughout the whole of Flint will be able to help the GCLBA decide on what properties to demolish.

Though there is a chance one of these houses will be in Brownell-Holmes, Christina Kelly, director of planning and neighborhood revitalization, says the reality is this round of demolitions will only be accounting for 30 or so properties, about 0.6 percent of the GCLBA’s 4706 blighted homes. 
According to Christine Kelly, a house like 2114 W Home fits many of the characteristics necessary to be chosen for demolition. It is owned by the GCLBA, categorized as sub-par, has major fire damage and is both near a school and main road.
For this reason, the survey is focused on identifying the characteristics of blighted homes rather than specific addresses. Instead of asking residents what houses they would like to see demolished, the GCLBA is asking what type of house.

Results from the survey will be counted and different criteria will have scores assigned to them based on how important citizens say they are on a scale of one to 10.

To narrow this down, the survey includes questions like:
  • How important is it to prioritize burned-out houses over houses in sub-standard condition?
  • How important is it (to) prioritize blighted houses close to open schools for demolition?
  • How important is it (to) prioritize blighted houses close to parks for demolitions? 
“All of these properties are in need of demolition … There's just no way we can just pick addresses because we have so many people calling in addresses and complaining (about them),” Kelly says. “In order to be more systematic about it, we will take these different criteria … and then we’ll weight them based on what the community thinks is most important.”

For residents like Jeanette Edwards, president of BHNA, even the slim chance of having one of the houses in the neighborhood demolished fills them with hope. 

Edwards acknowledges the task the GCLBA faces is a daunting one. In a city built for half the population it currently has living in it, there are bound to be a lot of abandoned homes. Despite this, Edwards says she’s grown tired of seeing the same couple of houses in her neighborhood turn into people’s personal dumps.

Aside from seeing lots and houses riddled with garbage, graffiti, overgrown yards, and sunken roofs amidst streets of well-kept homes, Edwards says the abandoned houses, many of which have been marked for demolition for years, are a danger to members of the community, especially children. 

According to Edwards, before the COVID-19 pandemic, Brownell-Holmes’ streets would regularly be filled with children coming to and from school in both Brownell and Holmes STEM Academies. 

“We live by two schools, children are running around and you know, kids are kids … what if one of the children goes into a house? A wall could fall on them," she said.

Aside from the danger, these properties pose to passersby, residents are restricted from even trying to keep the lots clean.

6117 Fleming Rd, despite being owned by the GCLBA and being completely overgrown, does not qualify as a sub-par house. In fact, according to the Flint Property Portal, it is categorized as fair, making it ineligible for demolition.

Brownell-Holmes residents are no strangers to maintaining plots of land that aren’t theirs. Logan’s Park on the corner of Allison and Barbara, two plots where the BHNA pop-up library stands, and vacant lots on Homes Ave are all owned in part by the GCLBA but almost entirely maintained by members of the community. 

On severely overgrown properties like 2114 W. Home Avenue and 6617 Fleming Road, even setting foot on the lawn isn’t safe due to years of dumping. Shards of glass on the ground, nails, cement, and thorny plants make these areas inaccessible. 

Cases like these dot the Brownell-Holmes neighborhood. According to Edwards, these plots serve as unwelcome reminders that no matter how many beautification projects are hosted, there is a lot of work left to be done and most of it is up to people and entities not familiar with the area. For a group like BHNA that’s used to defying the odds on a daily basis, this can get frustrating. 

“In the summertime when people cut the empty lots, they can’t make it around those houses. It’s not safe … people use those houses as dumps," she said.

BHNA plans on printing out and distributing physical copies of the Google Forms survey for members of the community without access to the proper technology. According to a video embedded in the survey that outlines the GCLBA’s decision process, north Flint neighborhoods like Brownell-Holmes stand a higher chance of having houses demolished in their area.

This is due to the fact that Wards 1 (which Brownell-Holmes is a part of), 2, and 3 make up 20, 18, and 23 percent of GCLBA’s blighted structures respectively.

Kelly says that despite this round of funding for demolitions being small, the information collected in the surveys will be used to inform future demolitions as well as be shared with the community for added transparency.

“While this scoring framework is for this particular grant, it could also help us with future planning … We can always come back and do this again and we will share our findings … This could help inform how we should be thinking about demolition in Flint,” Kelly said. 

The survey will be open until Monday Nov. 30. According to Kelly, once results are counted, demolition will begin toward the beginning of the year and end by summertime.

The Mott Foundation announced in August that it would fully fund seven neighborhood projects and partially fund an eighth project — for a total of $1 million in related support — based on how Flint residents voted between July 28 and Aug. 11. The grant to the Land Bank will fund three of the projects residents asked for. The breakdown of funds for this grant are:

  • Demolish vacant houses that are beyond repair | $150,553
  • Take down properties that have been burned | $139,378
  • Demolish homes listed on the City's Property Portal that are designated as needing demolition but currently no funds are available | $158,098


“During our community conversations last fall, residents expressed growing frustration over blight. They then showed with their votes just how important the issue is to them,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation, said in a news release. “We’re eager to continue working with the community to fight blight and strengthen the city’s neighborhoods.”

More information about the Mott Foundation's Focus on Flint initiative is online.

Read more articles by Santiago Ochoa.

Santiago Ochoa is a freelance reporter and communications student at UM-Flint. He is the project editor for On The Ground community reporting series and currently serves as The Michigan Times' Editor-in-Chief. Santiago has worked with publications and organizations like The New York Times, the Interamerican Press Association and Flint Beat. You can reach him @santi8a98 on Twitter and Instagram and email him at [email protected]
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