Three massive developments are headed for Flint this summer featuring apartments, townhouses, business space, and community centers. They represent more than $50 million worth of investment in Flint and a major shift in how affordable housing can—and should be—an opportunity to rebuild communities.
“We firmly believe that supporting diverse neighborhoods with families and individuals of all income levels and backgrounds makes for a healthy community,” said Katie Bach, communications director for the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.
These developments are about community development with housing options for people of all income levels with an eye toward building a thriving community long-term. These days, affordable housing is viewed as an anchor for economic recovery with a fresh design to entice young community members and industry investment.
Beyond buzzwords, it means a workable, and walkable vision of Flint’s future—following a proven model of success in other communities nationwide.
Here’s a look at the three developments starting in Flint:
- At 310 E. Third St. in downtown Flint, the former YWCA building will become a four-story mixed-use building, townhouse, green space and parking. The new building will include 92 units, 48 of which will be considered affordable housing. They include one, two, and three bedroom rentals. The $19.6 million development includes $10.9 million in LIHTC funding, Bach said.
- On the northside of Flint, Clark Commons construction is scheduled to begin in June. The six-block development off North Saginaw Street will include 62 units in 11 buildings. The buildings include a variety of building types including a three-story apartment building as well as townhomes and attached single family homes. The $16.9 million development includes $15 million in tax credits awarded by MSHDA. The award was expedited as part of the city’s application for the Choice Neighborhood Initiative Implementation Grant. With designs that were derived with resident input.
- On Flint’s far westside near McLaren hospital, the former Coolidge Elementary school is being transformed into Coolidge Park Apartments by Communities First Inc. Construction is beginning this summer to transform the historic school property into 54 apartments, 9,600 square feet of commercial space and more than 9,000 square feet of community space. The development includes one, two and three bedroom apartments, 45 of which will rent with affordable rates and 9 will rent at market rate. Total cost is expected to be $14.7 million, covered in part with $11.8 million in LIH tax credits.
The mixed-income approach is different than public housing programs the city (and the country) has seen in the past says Kevin Schronce, lead planner in the City of Flint’s Planning Office.
“We want to follow HUD’s national plan in not re-creating policies in the ’70s and ’80s where you have concentrations of very low-income housing projects that underserved these same communities to begin with,” Schronce says. “We’ve seen why that doesn’t create a path to success. In fact, we’re still dealing with the effects of those failed policies.”
From MSHDA to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Schronce says the public-private pipeline in rehabbing old spaces and utilizing contemporary design brings balance and long-term investment to the city. It provides housing for new residents and provides much better housing to current residents. “We have the people that want to move into our city, and we are also working to help those people that are already here get access to better transportation and services,” he said. “It’s about bringing these groups together.”
Priority characteristics for affordable housing includes employment centers, reliable transportation options, and vicinity to downtown areas, Bach says. Every two years, MSHDA determines the best way to spend the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) funding—allowing the program to adapt to changing demands in the types of housing residents want, Bach says.
The current trend is to include mixed-income housing as a basis for long-term growth in struggling communities, including Flint.
“Here in the city, we want housing that is for everyone, not just one demographic that can afford to live downtown,” Schronce said.
Through the Choice Initiative residents of Atherton East are being relocated from the dilapidated low income housing complex built on a flood plain and cut off from the rest of the city. Residents were able to take part in the design process for Clark Commons and work with contractors on the plan. “(The city) has never downplayed that some of these units are for public housing, but what we’ve done from a design standpoint is dial in that these units are the same quality that folks from different incomes want,” Schronce says. “That is what’s been shown to work, across the board.”
A market analysis conducted by MSHDA shows mixed-income housing improves educational outcomes and neighborhood stability by improving the value of the local housing market. “Stabilizing a housing market can spur neighborhood revitalization by bringing in more outside private investment,” it says. The Flint Housing Commission reiterates these findings stating in the South Flint Plan: “That mixed financial redevelopment is the single most important tool currently available to the commission.” It gives residents the opportunity “to choose to live in new, vibrant and sustainable communities with a wide range of family incomes.”
The data agrees, the market analysis shows an overall positive outcome in support of mixed-income housing, from a variable that plagues economically depressed cities: education. The study states that, “socioeconomic status of school’s pupil population is the primary factor related to academic performance,” and that, “life opportunities of low-income pupils improve significantly when they are surrounded by middle-class classmates.”
Schronce says other cities such as Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit have implemented this approach over the past decade. “It’s important to catch Flint up with that trend.” Schronce said. “Essentially we have an oversupply of single family homes that younger people, like millenials, don’t want or don’t want the responsibility of owning. They want to be closer to urban centers.”
Affordable housing programs administered by MSHDA include LIHTC, the Tax Exempt Bond program and the HOME program—all of which are subsidized by the Federal government to provide affordable housing and rehabilitate existing affordable housing. “A key element of these programs is that they establish a public-private partnership where MSHDA works with private developers, builders and management companies to create and operate affordable housing for lower income tenants,” Bach says.
For the actual design of the townhomes for the Choice Neighborhoods project, the city of Flint contracted the architect firm of Fusco, Shaffer & Pappas Inc. of Ferndale to design. “The design, architecture and exterior facades were put together in such a way that it blends together with the existing community,” says James Pappas, the president of the firm. “We had a lot of input from residents, which was important for amenities, and storage in the layout of the homes, but we strived to keep the look and feel of the design to what is already there, what you might find in the neighborhood already.”