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Addressing Blight in Flint

When you think of Flint, Michigan, your first thought is likely of befouled water, not of blight, but the City is making great strides in curbing blight in its community. Serving as the linchpin and bringing together residents, community groups, nonprofits, and philanthropies, Flint has taken steps to combat blight through a few repeatable steps that other governments can apply to problems they’re looking to address.

Flint took a well-thought out approach in its Beyond Blight: Comprehensive Blight Elimination Framework to make this work a success:

  • Using current government processes to your advantage.
  • Fully explaining the need to address this issue when connecting with stakeholders.
  • Continuing to engage stakeholders at each step of the process.
  • Setting specific, measurable goals to track progress.
  • Revisiting strategies and adjusting as needed.

Using current government processes to your advantage.

Governments have timelines for strategic thinking and planning. Aligning processes to these timelines helps ensure that strategies are thought through and put down on paper. In October 2013, Flint adopted its first comprehensive Master Plan in fifty years, which recommended that the City to create a five-year plan to address blight. By using the power of current government processes, the City was able to prioritize the creation of its strategy to take on blight, passing its Beyond Blight: Comprehensive Blight Elimination Framework in February 2015. The purpose of the blight elimination framework is to ensure that all involved parties are directing their work and efforts collaboratively and cohesively, adhering to the City’s Master Plan.

scale-of-blight

 

Fully explaining the need to address this issue when connecting with stakeholders.

Taking the time to demonstrate the importance of your goal and how it affects your stakeholders helps keep the focus on the real issues and builds buy in and support. The first step in addressing blight was to determine the state of blight in Flint’s communities in a data-informed manner. The Your Neighborhood Inventory project created a partnership among local government, nonprofits, neighborhood-based groups, and community members committed to surveying conditions on the ground in Flint’s residential areas. One in three residential properties in Flint is blighted so it’s easy to see how deep this problem goes. Flint’s planning department used pictures of blighted properties in the City in its training materials for participant groups to reaffirm the importance of and need for this work. These groups were eager to get involved and do their part in taking on blight in their city. The Community Foundation of Greater Flint Neighborhoods Small Grants Program helped sustain this motivation by awarding grants to community groups that completed their inventories. The Your Neighborhood Inventory groups evaluated all of Flint’s 51,607 residential properties in 2012.

blight-removal-2013

Beyond Blight Framework, page 17

“I learned a lot today. I think before I came here I thought things in my neighborhood look like they do because the government wasn’t doing its job right. I’m now seeing that they’re really doing a lot with a little bit. They’re not the problem.” -­ 1st Ward Resident

Continuing to engage stakeholders at each step of the process.

Stakeholders want to be informed and have valuable insight to share throughout various stages of the process. Building in venues to capture this information and strategize with stakeholders can really make a difference in the success and sustainability of a project. After engaging with stakeholders through the Your Neighborhood Inventory project, the City of Flint and the Genesee County Land Bank organized community meetings in each of the City’s nine wards to get residents’ opinions on how to best allocate the budget for the blight elimination efforts. More than 230 residents participated in these workshops. The City gained a lot of insight (e.g., the city learned demolition is a priority for residents over boarding up buildings and waste removal, further, residents are willing to mow vacant lots in their own neighborhoods), and participants walked away feeling like the City was doing its best to address the issue in a thoughtful way.

ward-blight-budgeting-results

Beyond Blight Framework, page 26

Setting specific, measurable goals to track progress.

Stating clear goals helps set the course of the project and ensures that all stakeholders know where and how they fit in to making it a success. Starting with a data-driven approach to the inventory project enabled Flint to set specific goals with targets and timelines. Flint was realistic but aspirational when setting goals. The City considered four different funding scenarios and weighed the outcomes at each funding level (see page 114), before choosing the best model based on stakeholder support and resources. In the end, the City established very clear five-year goals for blight elimination (e.g., remove 71,000 tons of garbage, bring 95% of properties into code compliance, demolish 5,000 vacant and blighted structures, etc.). The City also provides internal and external updates and tracks progress through the annual Beyond Blight Update and Action Plan.

blight-elimination-benchmarks

Beyond Blight Summary, page 1

Revisiting strategies and adjusting as needed.

Projects don’t play out in vacuums. Situations change so it’s important to create the space to assess needs and confirm commitments to keep projects on track. The City of Flint continues to host community meetings on its blight elimination work, looking to residents to weigh in on land use decisions, review draft zoning code, and create neighborhood revitalization plans. By discussing its blight elimination efforts, Flint is ensuring that this work is prioritized and staff throughout the City can give input on the process.

Flint officials acknowledge that they have only just begun to fully address the City’s blight concerns, but the City and its stakeholders have made significant progress by involving residents to lay the groundwork for a successful project that meets the needs of the community.

Since the adoption of the Beyond Blight: Comprehensive Blight Elimination Framework, the  Flint community as a whole, through leadership from the City of Flint and the Genesee County Land Bank, has had the following successes:

  • Raised nearly $24 million to demolish more than 2,000 blighted structures.
  • Boarded approximately 1,500 vacant structures, including 300 with decorative boarding methods.
  • Removed more than 8,400 tons of trash from vacant properties.
  • Completed more than 140,000 vacant property “mowings.”
  • Planted low-maintenance clover on more than 2,000 vacant lots.

In total, this work is valued at $32.65 million. Residents and community groups are happy with the progress and are looking to stay involved. By using current government processes to your advantage; fully explaining the need to address this issue when connecting with stakeholders; continuing to engage stakeholders at each step of the process; setting specific, measurable goals to track progress; and revisiting strategies and adjusting as needed, you can begin to take on your biggest challenges.

Thanks to Natalie Pruett (author of Beyond Blight: Comprehensive Blight Elimination Framework), Kevin Schronce (Lead Planner, City of Flint), and Christina Kelly (Director of Planning & Neighborhood Revitalization, Genesee County Land Bank) for their review.


Do you have any success stories using data and evidence to better serve your community that you’d like to share? Contact us at govex@jhu.edu.

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