Hashtag help wanted: Flint aims to land $30 million HUD grant with residents support

Hashtag help wanted: Flint aims to land $30 million HUD grant with residents support
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Flint residents have already accepted the challenge to rise from the proverbial ashes of a public health crisis and now the city can bring home a victory for the entire state.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant competition is a chance to win as much as $30 million to improve living options and build the community – but the application team needs support. Using the hashtag #mychoiceisflint, city officials have launched a social media campaign to help advocate for success leading to the Nov. 22 submission deadline.

“Funding for this grant would be transformational for Flint,” says Suzanne Wilcox, acting director of the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

Flint’s Acting Department of Planning and Development Director Suzanne Wilcox is encouraging Flint’s residents to reflect on what they like about the city and to promote it on social media  – – #mychoiceisflint. Photo courtesy K. Stevenson

As the only known grant applicant from Michigan in a nationwide process, the whole state should “pull behind” Flint and promote the city through social media posts and “shares” using the #mychoiceisflint endorsement, she says. Citizens, elected officials, athletes, performers, community organization leaders and other advocates are asked to help build momentum.

“It just represents a tremendous amount of hard work and coalition-building leveraged by a huge number of community partners,” adds Wilcox.

Central to the application are South Flint’s Atherton East Apartments, a low-income housing complex whose residents must be relocated. Atherton was built on a flood plain, in violation of zoning laws, about 50 years ago and residents have faced hazards that require they be given new, HUD-approved accommodations, says city planner Kristin Stevenson.

“Our plan actually proposes three different locations for Atherton East in the city of Flint,” she says.

Clark Commons could become the first phase of historic, mixed-income housing is Flint wins a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant competition. Illustration courtesy City of Flint

Clark Commons, a mixed-income housing development in North Flint, would include some of about 250 current Atherton East residents. The overall vision, says Stevenson, is to create 300 mixed-income housing units at multiple locations, including Clark Commons’ 62 energy-efficient apartments on North Saginaw near Williams.

Calling the vision a “game-changer” for the community, she says Flint has no designated mixed-income housing.

“It’s all about de-concentration of poverty,” Stevenson adds. “It’s not just, ‘Here are all these public housing units and we’ll put them over here.’ Stable neighborhoods are formed when they’re integrated and diverse in all ways.”

City Planner Kristin Stevenson asserts that stable neighborhoods are formed when “they’re integrated and diverse in all ways.” Photo courtesy Americorps

HUD will announce planning grant winners next spring and construction of Clark Commons could begin in July. The proposal for relocation of Atherton East residents and the larger mixed-income housing initiative will move forward regardless of whether Flint’s chosen, Stevenson says, but a chunk of the $132 million available would accelerate the city’s work. Partners with the city include the Flint Housing Commission and Norstar Development, which has applied for low-income housing tax credits to begin construction of Clark Commons.

Added features of the proposal, like improved health and safety initiatives and improved access to transportation, would also be possible with HUD’s grant.

Photos, quotes, and even simple words of support for the campaign can be posted to @mychoiceisflint, using Twitter and Instagram, while Facebook users can showcase the hashtag on the page “South Flint Community Plan.”

“Lots of people live, work and play here, so we want to get them to reflect on what they like about the city,” says Stevenson.

As lead planner for the proposal, Stevenson has been involved with the effort for almost three years and she says it would help for both Flint and non-Flint residents using social media to “talk about why they’re proud of this town.”

“It’s really about leveraging what’s already happening and all the investment in the community,” she adds, “and saying, ‘HUD, help us do more.’”

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