From her office at Metro Community Development, Emily Doerr and the staff of the nonprofit organization look at Flint’s housing and community development with optimistic yet realistic eyes, realizing that it will take years of hard word, investment and innovation to develop a strong home base from which Flint and its residents will grow.
If you want to talk housing and Flint, there is no better person to engage with than Doerr. Doerr is vice president of Housing Development for Metro, the role in which she supervises key projects such as the Back@Home program, which will help with the renovation of 37 North Flint homes over the next decade.
It’s a role perfectly tailored for Doerr, who was born in Flint and came home to help rebuild her hometown through investment, entrepreneurship and her role at Metro. Doerr, who came back to the city in 2016 to work in affordable-housing development for the city of Flint, sees endless potential in housing here – but it is going to take creativity, community and partnerships to make it happen in real and substantive ways, she believes.
“When you talk about the future, you have to talk about the opportunities, barriers and small nudges that could really get Flint’s housing and neighborhood resurgence revved up,” Doerr said.
In a wide-ranging conversation about the future of Flint housing, Doerr covered all of the bases and the front line effort Metro is having on the construction of these projects both in the literal and figurative sense of the word. Doerr, who lives in Flint’s College Cultural neighborhood, is seeing how building new housing, adding more “missing middle” homes will change Flint’s architectural feel and why it is important for Metro and its partners to reset the market in terms of appraisal values and develop workforces to help with this growth by focusing on the building trades.
This growth is “definitely incremental,” Doerr said, but that is to be expected. “All that stuff takes time; neighborhoods cannot change overnight. They are changed incrementally.”
It’s no small job for Doerr or Metro Community Development. But it is something she loves to talk about, both at work and after hours. She describes her work at Metro and the staff there as “inspiring,” and a group that truly cares about Flint and how housing comes together for the neighborhoods.
Here are some of her thoughts on the redevelopment of one of America’s greatest cities and how her role at Metro is having an impact:
RESETTING THE MARKET TO INCREASE SINGLE FAMILY HOME APPRAISAL VALUES
Through the Back@Home program, which is funded through a $250,000 grant from Consumers Energy Foundation, Metro is hitting on a variety of its goals, Doerr said, but one of them is the key need to boost appraisal values for single-family homes in Flint.
For example, Metro will buy a home at market value, renovate it and use its internal lending division to set up a loan for the house, Doerr said. That way, the homeowner doesn’t need a traditional appraisal to purchase the home using a bank-based loan.
A home that might have had a $15,000 appraisal could sell for its actual $35,000 worth, pushing home values up in a way that helps Flint, according to Doerr.
“Systemic racism in north Flint and disinvestment led to devalued property,” Doerr said. “We could renovate the home and have this beautiful house that anywhere else would be $150,000 but would come back at a much lower appraisal just because it is in Flint.”
MIDDLE HOUSING THAT DOESN’T LOOK OR FEEL LIKE A COMPOUND
One of Doerr’s dreams is to see the development of row houses or, more traditionally defined as townhouses, come into the mix of residential developments around Flint, something she is working on at Metro.
“We need more of that missing middle, specifically townhouses,” Doerr said. “A townhouse still feels like you have your own kind of space but you get more people on less land.”
The “missing middle” is a reference to the kind of housing developments that reside between single-family homes and big multi-unit skyscraper-style homes that put too many people apart from neighbors or a neighborhood.
Doerr and Metro have ideas before the Mott Foundation to see if they can get a grant to develop land with a townhouse project that they hope will help Flint support more people-centric developments within established neighborhoods.
“I’m excited that if we build them people are going to want to build a lot more of them because they’ll see how it fits. You can put townhomes into a single-family neighborhood and have it not feel weird,” Doerr said.
SUBSIDY SOURCES FILL THE GAPS
“What’s hard about market rate units is you cannot spend tax dollars on them. A bank will give you a loan for them but what rents can you charge? In flint, you cannot charge $2,000 a month,” Doerr said.
Detroit’s Strategic Neighborhood Fund could be a model for Flint, Doerr noted. There, Mayor Mike Duggan is working with businesses to help fill that gap between banks and redevelopment projects, funding specific neighborhoods through donations.
LOCAL RESIDENT WORKFORCE
Metro is working with local community groups and Mott Community College to hire Flint youth who want to get into construction, Doerr said. This way, students who want to get job experience and start renovating homes can work with its Back@Home project right away.
“We want to work with kids from the neighborhood,” Doerr said. “They’ll learn on the job and work in their own neighborhood. We’d love to see them eventually get enough work skills on the job that they can move up and up.”
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Metro’s North Flint redevelopment efforts in TheHUB Flint’s article entitled “Blight Fight: Metro program will renovate 37 North Flint homes, employ area youth and strengthen neighborhoods“
Lead image courtesy of Central Michigan University