There is an evolution happening in Flint and Genesee County, where the road to regional recovery has been a steep one due to major plant closings and Flint’s water crisis. Despite these and other challenges, there are solid signs that residents are making inroads and moving toward a better tomorrow for themselves and their neighbors.
The ‘we’re-all-in-the-same-boat’ attitude borne from being thrown into crisis together remains in place and has become an integral part of the strength region, which is in the process of revitalization, says Grace Taylor, Metro Community Development’s outreach coordinator.
And, as more businesses —big and small — are setting down roots and bringing opportunity and hope, residents want a piece of the prosperity pie.
“People are absolutely hungry for change and want to create better lives. They want more. They are ready for more,” Taylor says.
Taylor’s organization is meeting this regional readiness in a really big way through their partnership with Huntington Bank and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). Together, they are presenting the Moving You Forward Opportunity Expo. The massive, open-house resource fair is slated to feature about 50 vendors and will be held at Kettering University on Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
“We’ll have resources for employment opportunities, banking, credit, auto loans, debt consolidation, home ownership and more,” says Taylor.
Experts will be on hand to help steer expo visitors to programs that provide free funding for home repairs and other services, as well as low and no-cost programs like Forge Garage’s auto repair program, which is saving area residents $500 or more on auto repair costs.
The garage, which offers most services except for engine and transmission repair, has been in operation for a little less than two years now. During that time, they have helped more than 80 families.
“A significant portion of the expo is dedicated to financial resources. That is the most important resource. Without it, your hands are literally tied, which often takes a toll on you physically and mentally,” says Taylor.
Metro has long recognized that training residents — especially those with past economic challenges — in financial fitness is a crucial gateway to a more stable tomorrow. Their program Money Games: Understanding the Rules serves to create a more level financial playing field for many people.
The program involves a series of interactive workshops that discuss the basics of money management from what to look for when purchasing a car to how-tos like managing a bank account, building an emergency savings fund for when life happens, shopping for insurance, budgeting in spending plans and funding retirement.
Participants will also be able to participate in private one-on-one counseling sessions about credit basics such as how to read a credit report and the steps to getting things corrected if there are errors.
“These workshops provide the basics of understanding the rules of the game of money management,” says Taylor.
“Once we understand a program participant’s financial needs, we conduct one-on-one coaching sessions to help them draw up personalized game plans specific to their unique needs and circumstances,” says David Leclerc, Metro’s vice president of asset development.
Money Games participants value the program, which makes them feel like they are not alone, according to Leclerc, who emphasizes the caring compassion of Metro’s credit counselors and the personalization of credit recovery plans as what sets Metro’s program apart from more generic credit seminars.
The program, originally designed to provide home buyer education to people who wanted to buy, or were close to buying their first home, was tweaked following Metro’s observation that the number of first-time home buyers in the community was in steep decline.
“When we started to investigate possibilities as to why this was occurring, one of the major items we discovered was that Flint had credit (score) problems,” says Leclerc, who notes a 2016 study conducted by Lendedu and Experian Credit ranked Flint near the bottom of a national credit survey with an average score of 599.
It was this alarming rate that led Metro to alter its program in 2018. The organization shifted its focus on home buying to financial literacy and education.
Leclerc explains that although a credit score of 599 will not prohibit area residents from getting credit for car and other loans, it near guarantees they will be charged extremely high interest rates.
In the case of a car loan, this might translate into a thousand dollars or more in additional interest costs over an individual with an average credit score, according to Leclerc.
Credit scores are also used to determine if a customer will pay higher insurance costs,” says Leclerc. “And they are increasingly used by employers who rely upon credit scores to gauge a prospective employees’ reliability and fiscal competence.”
Taylor is quick to point out how working toward higher individual credit scores can benefit the entire regional landscape.
“If the county could increase their overall credit score then all of us would benefit from cheaper insurance policies,” she says. “It would allow people an easier time affording homes, and homeowners are often more protective of their communities than renters.”
Echoing that sentiment is Nykole Pfaff, a prominent local real estate broker and owner of Flipping Flint, who has witnessed the correlation between home ownership and upkeep.
“Bottom line,” says Pfaff. “Homeowners take better care of their properties than renters, who are not incentivized to take care of their landlords’ property.”
And having more owner-occupied homes means neighborhoods will be better kept and have higher ‘curb appeal,’ which is a critical factor in housing valuation.
Well-kept homes and neighborhoods sell, according to Pfaff.
“I personally live in the College Cultural Area in Flint,” says Pfaff. “I absolutely love watching the community grow with young and old professionals, with people who take pride in ownership and only want to see our city grow and prosper.”
The link between good credit, home ownership and community resurgence is also extolled by Moving You Forward Opportunity Expo partner MSHDA, which will have Step Forward Michigan experts on hand to help aspiring homeowners with financial assistance.
“Home ownership is a vehicle that creates wealth-building opportunities. It’s a vehicle that people can use to create equity in their lives which can help them get their son or daughter to college, or start a business in the community,” says Van Adams, a departmental analyst and outreach specialist at MSHDA.
He adds that MSHDA is focused on opportunities in Flint and Genesee County.
Homeownership is a gateway to economic prosperity, according to Adams, who would like to see more inclusionary development across the state.
“Our strength is being able to champion affordability so that no one is left behind and everyone has the opportunity to live in decent and affordable housing,” says Adams.
Expo participants can talk to MSHDA representatives about its credit repair program and how to acquire the organization’s help in getting to a place where they can purchase their own home or live in a better rental.
“Many people want to own their own home, but have challenges, whether it’s health, or credit. We want to help eliminate as many barriers to home ownership as possible,” Adams says.
Barriers of all kinds will be addressed at the upcoming expo. One of the most common challenges Taylor has heard from people in the community is that they don’t know where to start when embarking on the path to better opportunities. She’d argue that a good first step would be through the doors of the Moving You Forward Opportunity Expo.
Editor’s Note: More than 50 exhibitors will be on hand at the Moving You Forward Opportunity Expo. The free event will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 9 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Kettering University.
The following exhibitors will be on hand at the event, according to Expo organizers:
Burton Glen Charter Academy /Linden Charter Academy
City of Flint Mayor’s Office
Communication Access Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Inc. (CAC)
Community Housing Resource Board (CHRB)
Fifth Third Bank
Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce
Flint Registry – Greater Flint Health Coalition
Genesee County Habitat for Humanity
Genesee County Land Bank/Genesee County Treasurer’s Office
Genesee County Metropolitan Planning Commission
Genesee County Prevention Coalition
Genesee Health Plan
Genesee Health System
Goodwill Industries of Mid Michigan
Greater Flint Health Coalition
GST Michigan Works!
Hamilton Community Health Network
Holy Cross Services Michigan
Hurley Medical Center
Kettering University FIRST Robotics Team
Legal Services of Eastern Michigan
MCC Workforce & Economic Development
Michigan State University College of Human Medicine – Flint
Mott Community College (MCC)
MSHDA – Michigan State Housing Development Authority
Neighborhood Engagement Hub
Oak Street Health
Planned Parenthood – Flint Health Center
Ross Mortgage Corporation
Shelter of Flint, Inc.
Sovita Credit Union
Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village
UM-Flint: Office of University Outreach
USDA Rural Development
Wellness Services, Inc.
YMCA of Greater Flint