Dream house: Flint home sparks neighborhood affair 

Dream house: Flint home sparks neighborhood affair 
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Dave Phaneuf found his dream house – an 1898 Queen Ann home in Flint’s Grand Traverse neighborhood – and wound up having it all.

Through the house he connected with a five-generation legacy and adopted a key role in stabilizing the community.

“The neighborhood looked a little down on its luck.

The house was in rough shape, but it had possibilities,” says Phaneuf who moved into his home in 2000.

He painted the outside, fixed up the interior of the two-family dwelling, and renovated the home’s apartment unit.

Shortly after the house was spiffed up, the owner’s daughter, Heidi Peterson, became a tenant, with her daughter and granddaughter. As it turned out, Heidi’s grandparents had lived in the house and her parents stayed there until she was 2 years old. Every rumbling old pipe welcomed her.

Soon Phaneuf and Peterson became intertwined as partners in life and neighborhood dedication. They joined the Grand Traverse District Neighborhood Association in partnership with Genesee County Habitat for Humanity.

Flint community activists Dave and Heidi Phaneuf with their son Logan, 10, at the Spring Grove Wetland Restoration in Flint, Michigan. Photo Paul Engstrom

After they married they became enmeshed in bringing love to the area and the 300-plus properties within its boundaries. The beacon is Stockton Center, a Civil War-era house where the neighborhood maintains offices, the community gathers on warm summer nights for concerts. Heidi labored to rebuild Spring Grove, a nature park and wetlands, along with a natural waterfall spilling into Schwartz Creek, adjacent to the iconic house.

“My wife is a real go-getter,” Phaneuf says. “She was one of the first presidents of this neighborhood association.”

Together they forged an ongoing collaboration with Habitat for Humanity.

Volunteers working under the direction of Habitat’s Tom Hutchison and Vincent Slocum began to accomplish real change in the tired neighborhood on the edge of Flint’s downtown. Hutchison lives in the neighborhood and serves as secretary of the association.

They helped rehab the Swayze Building into apartments for the homeless as well as people at risk of homelessness and those with special needs. They also spruced up Memorial Park and added a playscape and basketball court.

With numerous clean-up projects completed and much more to accomplish, the Grand Traverse District became part of a new program called Flint BRAND (Building Resident Action by Neighborhood Design), adopted by the national office of Habitat for Humanity. Slocum heads up the program, which targets three specific neighborhoods with the full resources of the organization – tools, manpower, grantwriting and strategic planning.

“For 25 years we’ve seen our impact scattered. The in-fill development didn’t work as well as we hoped,” Slocum says. “We could leverage more restorations when we brought the community in as partners. Our efforts would leave them stronger and create vital resources.”

Upgraded parks are part of the Habitat for Humanity BRAND (Building Resident Action by Neighborhood Design) program. Photo by Paul Engstrom

One of the projects Habitat recommended was making a list of community “resources,” such as available parks, waterways, historical markers, retailers and more.

Grassroots organizations, block clubs and citizen crime patrol groups can apply for up to $10,000 in support to rebuild the physical landscape of their subdivisions for lasting change.

For example, if they win grant money, Phaneuf hopes Habitat can help build a disc golf course at Spring Grove to engage children and adults in the fun hobby.

Next month the winners of the BRAND proposals will be announced.

Habitat, Slocum says, had torn down properties and conducted builds in numerous neighborhoods. Now they concentrate on a few areas where they can make a positive difference.

Kettering University and the C.S. Mott Foundation are working with Habitat to support the effort.

The university delivered volunteer assistants and the philanthropic group provided dollars to rebuild and restore houses, and turn the demolished Chevrolet plant into a testing ground for experimental cars built by college students. Parks were upgraded, too.

Genesee’s Habitat mission, printed on its website, states, “Community is much more than belonging to something. It’s about doing something that makes belonging matter.”

Bigger dreams are underway. Dave and Heidi Phaneuf  hope to raise $100,000 to turn the rail spur into a paved portion of the Genesee Valley Greenway, a bicycle path that will connect with other pathways throughout the city.

“The $100,000 gap is just a slight glitch,” Dave says. “We don’t know where the money will come from, but we know it will come. The trail will help bring the city of Flint together.”

To Slocum, a recent graduate of University of Michigan Flint, community leaders and stable neighborhoods are the ultimate goal of Habitat and the city of Flint.

“When neighbors take on a leadership goal in project design, planning and contracting, the potential hurdles disappear,” he says. “We can take on goals of larger scale and contribute to cleaner, more vital neighborhoods.”

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2017 print issue of TheHUB Flint

About FlintBRAND 

By Mike Lapham

Several homes in Flint are about to have serious upgrades, thanks to a grant from Michigan State Housing Development Association (MSHDA).  The money from the grant will go to worthy homes and neighborhoods in the city by way of Habitat for Humanity’s FlintBRAND program.

With that money FlintBRAND will provide project funding on average of $10,000 per project. Each award will be based on specific goals, so projects of less than $10,000 are encouraged, as well as projects that exceed $10,000.

To be eligible houses have to be in the targeted neighborhoods of Grand Traverse District, Mott Park, Metawanenee Hills, Ballenger Square and Circle Drive.  Homes must require, at least, eight hours of work with roofs, structural damage, porch repair, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, handicap-accessibility, siding, exterior paint, weatherization and energy efficiency.

Homeowners interested in getting home improvement help should contact Genesee County Habitat for Humanity at (810) 766-9089 or learn more at www.geneseehabitat.org.

Specific programs can include:

  • Development of a community garden or farm stand for produce
  • A welcome banner or sign, or one that delivers a positive message about the neighborhood.
  • Decorative or outer improvement boarding
  • Tree trimming at the corridors
  • Repair or replacement and safety checks of equipment at parks or playgrounds
  • Sidewalk repair, pedestrian improvements, and streetscape beatification in Neighborhood Centers
  • Lighting improvements that increase visibility

Projects must be neighborhood-specific and planning groups must be made up of residents or stakeholders. The project must take place in the same neighborhood as the group and must use the strengths and assets that already exist in the community, including resident commitment, active networks and strategies already in place.

Creativity is encouraged.

All projects must have a minimum of 10 percent of the cost covered by in-kind contributions. That required match funding can take many forms volunteer labor at a rate of $23 an hour or grant funding, such as Neighborhood Small Grants from Community Foundation of Flint or Beautification mini-grants.

Letters of support from the community partners should be included, as should letters of support from government agencies or schools, if appropriate. Grassroots groups like neighborhood associations, block clubs, “friends of” park adopters, or crime patrols, not the homeowners, must make the recommendation.

The improvement must be proposed by five unrelated community members, three of whom must live in the neighborhood.

Proposals do not have to come from nonprofits or even established organizations. Habitat for Humanity will even help organize such neighborhood programs if desired.

Only one application per viewing cycle may be submitted per group.

Applications received by March 31 will be reviewed in April. Approval or comments will be given May 1.

There is a $200 fee, and only neighborhoods in the City of Flint are eligible.

For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/mshda.

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