Opinion: Imagining a new Flint
There is a big challenge facing many communities in our nation’s Rust Belt. While many high-cost areas of our nation, particularly along our coasts, lack enough affordable housing, cities like Flint struggle with population loss and the consequences of years of neighborhood decline.
Today, only 1-in-4 low-income families who would otherwise qualify for rental assistance receive a housing subsidy. Meanwhile, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency I lead, requires more funding each year just to assist the nearly 5 million families we currently serve. We need to think differently about how to tackle big challenges like housing affordability and community investment.
These challenges cannot be overcome by the federal government alone. Instead, it requires everyone working together to create more affordable housing and more community reinvestment — the federal government, state and local governments, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and the private sector.
This week, I awarded $30 million to help transform neighborhoods in South Flint. The city will use this money to leverage an additional $271 million to transform the community.
What does Flint hope to achieve through all this collaboration? First, Flint’s plan focuses on housing. The city and the Flint Housing Commission intend to demolish the aging Atherton East public housing development and replace it with a new mixed-income community that is well-managed and responsive to the needs of its residents.
Second, local planners are working to improve the lives of Atherton East residents by locating their new housing closer to higher-paying jobs, better schools and other amenities. Finally, the transformation plan seeks to make neighborhood improvements from building playgrounds to repurposing vacant lots. This kind of attention to the community creates the conditions needed to stimulate public and private reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods.
While Flint is working hard to reimagine itself, it is making sure low-income residents will continue to have a place in these new communities rather than being priced out of their own neighborhoods.
This is Flint’s vision, not Washington’s. Local leaders, local residents and local stakeholders came together to reimagine these new neighborhoods and now, with HUD’s help, they are on the verge of putting shovels into the ground to make this plan a reality. HUD is proud to stand with the city and the citizens of Flint to accomplish this transformation.
Ben Carson is secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.