_michigan congressman hopes to add _2 billion to blight fight _ ______mlive. com
Update: The U. S. House of Representatives on Friday morning, Dec. 18, passed the omnibus spending bill, which includes an amendment transfering $2 billion into the Hardest Hit Fund, by a vote of 313-116. WASHINGTON, D. C. — After working to secure more than $200 million to help demolish blighted properties in Michigan, a Flint congressman now expects another $2 billion to be allocated for the effort nationwide. U. S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, has led the charge to devote federal funds initially budgeted for mortgage relief programs to be used to wipe out urban blight in communities, like his native
Flint, that need it most. Early reviews of the blight blitz indicate the effort — which has resulted in the demolition of thousands of vacant, blighted homes in five Michigan cities since 2013 — has positively impacted crime rates and property values in the communities. An omnibus spending bill before Congress this week would put another $2 billion in federal funds toward the endeavor. “We have already made great progress in removing blight from our community, and this new flexibility will help to unlock more economic opportunity for all Michiganders,” Kildee said. The funds transfer was included in an amendment to House Resolution 2029, which Kildee expects to be put to a vote on Friday, Dec. 18. According to a two-year study by the Land Policy Institute at Michigan State University, $3.5 million of demolition activity in Flint unlocked $112 million in improved property values for surrounding homeowners. Saginaw mayor helps demolish his old home Saginaw Mayor Dennis Browning helps crews demolish the home where he raised his family in the 1970s and 80s on Friday, Nov. 6, 2015. The demolition is part of a federally-funded grant program that has helped city and county officials demolish hundreds of vacant, blighted homes in the community since October 2013. The grant runs through the end of 2015. “The data is clear, that demolition improves the trajectory of a neighborhood,” Kildee said. “As long as you do it right and preserve the historical assets.
” But the congressman, who founded Michigan’s first land bank while serving as Genesee County treasurer in 2002, said it is the impact on the lives of individual neighborhood residents that best illustrates the program’s accomplishments. “The measure I take more seriously is when I talk to somebody who lives in a neighborhood in Flint and they say, thank you for turning the burned-out building or the empty house that could not be rehabilitated next door into a playground for their kid or a garden to grow vegetables,” Kildee said. In Flint, nearly 2,000 rundown properties have been torn down. By the end of the year, crews in Saginaw will have knocked down 850 dilapidated houses. Crews making final push to demolish 850 vacant Saginaw homes In their place, many of the formerly-blighted properties are now community gardens, groves of fruit trees, green fields of clover and well-groomed yards connected to neighboring properties. Some have called them “pockets of hope” in neighborhoods that have been largely abandoned. “The way I measure success is by imagining what an 8-year-old child sees when they stand on their front porch,” Kildee said. “Do they see an empty old building or an abandoned house, or do they see green space where they can go play tag in, or football or whatever?
” Saginaw County Treasurer Tim Novak said the visible change in many of Saginaw’s neighborhoods is what is most striking about what the effort has achieved. “It’s this visual,” Novak said. “It’s mind-blowing when you drive through and see what’s not there anymore.” But Saginaw County’s treasurer, who serves by virtue of his office as chairman of the Saginaw County Land Bank Authority, said the $11.2 million spent in Saginaw has by no means eliminated the community’s blight problem.
Saginaw County Treasurer Tim Novak “We still have plenty of work to do,” Novak said. Despite the dramatic change achieved with the federal funding, he pointed out that hundreds of properties are still being foreclosed upon each year. “Yesterday’s house that was OK is tomorrow’s foreclosure,” Novak said. “Then the pipes are stripped out over the summer, and it just keeps going down from there.” Even though the number of foreclosures appears to be dropping in Saginaw, potentially a sign of an end to the city’s decades-long population decline, he said Saginaw could certainly benefit from additional blight elimination efforts.
Exactly how much of the new $2 billion in funding might be allocated to Michigan and to individual communities like Detroit, Flint, Saginaw, Grand Rapids and Pontiac, remains to be seen. “It’s hard to say,” Kildee said. But the congressman said he will work with the U. S. Treasury and continue to advocate for a funding formula that divides the funds based on levels of both need and capability. “Because I represent Flint and Saginaw, I’m going to push really hard in Flint and Saginaw,” he said. “But, generally, I think the best argument is push to make sure the money goes to communities that have entities that are really good at dealing with this problem and have a significant problem to deal with. That will favor communities like Flint and Saginaw. “We want to get it spent. We want to have the biggest impact.” Under the omnibus bill, the $2 billion for the Hardest Hit Fund will be drawn out of the Home Affordable Modification Program, another program developed under the Troubled Asset Relief Program signed into law by then-President George W. Bush in 2008 in response to the subprime mortgage crisis.
“There were several programs that were designed to use the TARP money, and that money did a lot of things,” Kildee said. “But one of the pieces of TARP was to help communities recover from the mortgage crisis and all the associated problems with that.” The HAMP funds were dedicated to helping eligible homeowners refinance home mortgage debt. The biggest difference that program and Hardest Hit, Kildee said, is that his earlier efforts have set precedents allowing Hardest Hit funds to be spent on demolition programs. “It would be available for any of the Hardest Hit purposes,” Kildee said. “It’s our expectation that the money will be used for demolition, for clearing away blight.” Another reason to transfer the funds, he said, is that the HAMP funding expires in 2016. If moved to the Hardest Hit Fund, it would extend that timeline an additional year, with the new expiration in 2017. “The HAMP program is winding down,” Kildee said. “There’s still money left in it, and there’s a lot of unmet need under the Hardest Hit category, especially since I was able to get the Hardest Hit category to include demolition.
” U. S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township Even with the one-year extension, he said, a 2017 deadline means the federal government and local communities alike will need to move quickly to spend down the money in time. “That’s still moving,” Kildee said. “We gotta move.” That’s part of the reason the congressman said he hopes the program will continue to work with communities that have land banks in place and have proven the ability to efficiently spend dollars on blight elimination. Though the Hardest Hit funds have been restricted to demolishing blighted residential properties, Kildee said he will continue to advocate for an expansion of the terms to allow funds to be spent on demolition of commercial properties as well. “I’m going to continue to push,” Kildee said. “But even if we don’t get it, it at least allows us to focus our search for other resources on commercial demolition. Because this will substantially increase the money available for residential, and I hope for commercial.
But, then again, that’s yet to be determined.” To say Kildee is an advocate for blight elimination is an understatement. Kildee’s recent efforts to eliminate blight in Michigan’s “Hardest Hit” communities has included the $100 million grant received in 2013 and split between five Michigan cities, and an additional $32.7 million in funding secured in October.
In July, Congressman Kildee, working with Sens. Stabenow and Peters, successfully fought back a proposal introduced in the U. S. Senate to rescind the money allocated through the Hardest Hit Fund and marked for Michigan blight demolitions. But the former county treasurer history of working to eliminate blight and re-purpose unused properties in urban areas that have experienced population loss and economic decline is much longer than his 3-year-long tenure in Congress. By forming the Genesee County Land Bank in 2002, Kildee started a trend that helped more than 100 other communities to launch similar programs to help create opportunities and foster development. One of those communities was Ohio’s Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland and the most populous in the state. “It is invaluable to have someone in Congress like Dan Kildee who understands the need to support America’s cities,” said Jim Rokakis, the former treasurer for Cuyahoga County.
Rokakis is now vice president of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. “For over a decade, it has been great to have a partner in Congressman Kildee on these important issues and now it is even better to see changes being made at the federal level to help strengthen and revitalize communities,” he said. “Dan has been instrumental in getting this change to free up additional resources for blight removal in Flint and other communities.” Because the omnibus spending bill was a negotiated agreement, Kildee said the expectation is that it will be passed on Friday. He said U. S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and a bipartisan coalition of Michigan’s congressional delegation have offered support for this new provision in the year-end government-funding bill. If it becomes law, Kildee said, it would become the largest single federal commitment to fighting blight in his tenure.
“It’s a pretty big step,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot to be done in these communities. But if this money is all dedicated to blight elimination, this will be the biggest federal commitment for cleaning up blight at least since I’ve been working on the issue, which is 15 years.” Mark Tower covers local government for MLive/The Saginaw News. Contact him at 989-284-4807, by email at mtower@mlive.
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