by Kate Stockrahm of Flint Beat

Flint, MI—Uptown Reinvestment Corporation is teaming up with Michigan Community Capital to redevelop Flint’s vacant and blighted properties for homeownership.

The 50/50 partnership, called Flint Homeownership Initiative, LLC, is focused on redeveloping Flint’s Genesee County Land Bank parcels into market-rate homes through a process called “infilling” — or building on unused or underused property within an existing development pattern.

“We’ve addressed a significant level of blight, and so now what we’re hearing from residents is ‘How can we turn this into new development opportunities?’” said Moses Timlin, who joined Uptown from the Genesee County Land Bank last month. “And filling in vacant spaces with housing was the number one thing we’ve heard through every planning process we’ve done over the last three years.”

FHI’s first redevelopment project will be three parcels on West Second Avenue in Flint’s Carriage Town neighborhood. The property at 412 W. Second Ave., a former multifamily development, will host two duplexes, and 417 and 427 W. Second Ave. will be redeveloped into single-family homes.

“We wanted to start somewhere where there was a cohesive neighborhood strategy,” said Joe Martin, Director of Development for Uptown, about why Flint Homeownership Initiative decided to begin work in the historic neighborhood.

“This is a way to kind of help formalize some partnerships,” Timlin added. “If you look at Carriage Town right now, Communities First is doing two housing projects; Habitat for Humanity is doing facade repairs; the (Carriage Town) Neighborhood Association does neighborhood improvement projects every year. So there’s a lot of really terrific ingredients.”

Martin said FHI is “uniquely positioned” to do this type of redevelopment because Uptown and Michigan Community Capital are both non-profit community development corporations.

“There is a complex financial structure involved and it does—as in almost every development in Flint—cost more to build than we can sell them for,” Martin said, while noting that’s a risk many private developers won’t take on. 

That complex financial structure involves brownfield tax increment financing, an agreement between the city and FHI which will use the parcels’ increased taxable value from redevelopment to reimburse FHI for costs associated with that development.

“Qualifying for brownfields helps to offset a lot of the environmental work that needs to be done,” explained Eric Kehoe, real estate development manager at Michigan Community Capital.

Between brownfield TIFs and grant funding, Flint Homeownership Initiative hopes to fill an estimated $1.2 million gap between the development cost for the Carriage Town units and their ultimate sale prices. 

But that financing won’t just mitigate FHI’s risk in taking on the project, it also helps ensure the resulting six homes can be offered at an affordable price point for Flint’s middle-income homebuyers.

“Market rate developers are going to find the least expensive land they can and build the most expensive products they can,” Kehoe said. “And that kind of leaves out a lot of people in the middle who are middle-income—teachers, nurses, firefighters—who don’t qualify for low-income housing but they also can’t afford the luxury market-rate homes.”

That middle-income group tend to look for homes that fall into a category known as “attainable” or “workforce” housing, or those that are affordable for households falling between 80%-120% of area median income.

“That’s the type of project and product that we’re trying to put on the market,” Kehoe said, and brownfield TIFs and grant funding will help FHI market its Carriage Townhomes in the $150-170k range—an “attainable” price point for the teachers, nurses, and firefighters Kehoe mentioned.

Neither Michigan Community Capital nor Uptown could offer a final timeline for the development as they are currently in the permitting and approvals phase. However, both seemed hopeful for what the success of this project could mean for Flint’s future development.

“We are really optimistic that this initial investment into the neighborhood is going to help start some more redevelopment efforts and some more community development citywide,” Kehoe said.

“I think this is a really unique opportunity to build equity into homeowners that may be unable to participate in homeownership in other communities because they’re priced out of the market,” Joe Martin, development director at Uptown, said. “It has a long-run goal in mind.”