Kristin Stevenson, of the City of Flint’s Planning and Development office holds a sign for the Flint Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, in downtown Flint. Jake Carah
Jessica Judson chooses Flint.
She’s a millenial, a community relations specialist who lives in East Village, and lives here because she wants to be a part in building Flint’s future. She sees opportunity here and an exciting future. She sees a tight community where she wants to plant her family roots. “Its funny how people from here will have to tell you first where in the city they are from, but it’s also an indication of how close Flint people are, it’s like we’re trying to figure out if we know each other through our friends.”
City leaders see that choice as a major component for future Flint development, including a massive $30 million federal grant that would develop the first major residential housing development in 20 years—and perhaps the first community development in a century that truly builds a neighborhood with business and community centers as well as an eye toward transportation, placemaking and economic development.
Flint is one of six finalists out of 20 applicants for the Choice Neighborhoods grant. Analysts from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will be visiting Flint in the coming days and weeks to assess its application.
Preparing for the visit, city officials are focusing on that choice and that love of Flint to win favor of federal officials doling out the funding.
If awarded the Choice Neighborhoods grant, Flint would construct more than 300 new, mixed-income housing units. It would build new homes for residents of the crumbling Atherton East Townhomes and essentially build brand new neighborhoods that are designed to boost economic development.
Flint’s funding request is leveraged with over $270 million worth of additional, committed investments from the community. The city’s plans are detailed in the South Flint Community Plan and implementation grant application, which was developed after two years of planning and input from residents.
And, it is, as far as Judson is concerned, exactly what the city needs. “I think this grant can be a very important opportunity” she said. “When you have this chance to bring people from the same neighborhood to new housing that’s designed to bring more people together from different parts of the city, its sending a message to them and new people coming into downtown, that this is a new chapter in our story.”
The city is promoting a #mychoiceisflint campaign to coordinate with its efforts to land the grant funding. Businesses, churches, community centers, schools and residents are asked to post the small signs with the hashtag leading up to the HUD site visit
“This is wonderful news for Flint,” said Mayor Karen Weaver. "We look forward to making sure our HUD site visit is a success and helps to secure our spot as a Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grantee.”
Judson pointed to the isolation of Atherton East compared to the location of three proposed developments—North Saginaw Street near University Estates, South Saginaw Street south of I-69 and west of I-475, and South Saginaw Street between Hemphill and Atherton roads.
“This initiative will bring more of the city together, and I believe that is exactly what we need.” Judson said.
Like Judson, Ryan Guerra, 32, is a millennial ready to raise his family in the vehicle city. He is the owner of Guerra Paint and Stain. “When I started my business, I wanted to be a part of the revitalization in Flint,” he says. “My goal was and still is to stay downtown. I like the community here. It’s a bigger city with a small-town feel.”
Guerra grew up in Linden and Lapeer, but was drawn to create his family home in Flint. “People take care of each other here, and I feel good about raising my son here. … I like being a local option for skilled trade.”
Flint is special, echoes John Forsleff, a middle school teacher and Flint resident. "I have many reasons why I stay,” he said. Forsleff sees his city struggle. He also sees the impact of years, perhaps decades, of disinvestment. “(Flint) is a place of struggle and neglect, but I have never thought of it as a place of weakness.” Perhaps it’s even missing a lot of things that other communities have— “but not hope,” Forsleff says.
For more information, follow @mychoiceisflint on Twitter or visit www.imagineflint.com.