Flipping Flint: Reversing the city's downward housing trend

Regina Porter is ready to become a homeowner.

â??Have you seen in there? It's awesome!â?? she said, standing in front of her red, brick craftsman-style home on N. Grand Traverse. For Porter, finally owning her home means no more renting or commuting. She can be with her four kids and run her child daycare center from home. She can build her credit and her new life in the city of Flint.

â??I just look at it as a blessing, truly I do,â?? Porter said.

Porterâ??s home was recently renovated by Salem Housing. â??Taking a house that's empty and abandoned and turning it into something that's the envy of anybody in the neighborhood, really,â?? Salemâ??s executive director, Bill Hammond, described.

Since 1984, the non-profit agency has renovated 130 homes in Flint with the goal of providing safe, affordable housing. Back then, low- to middle-income families could earn their homes by working alongside crews â?? sweat equity.

â??They became invested in it, it helped to foster a sense of accomplishment, they knew how to take care of their house,â?? Hammond said. But these neighbors, Hammond said, were eventually outpaced by fast-money investors who flipped homes for profit in the 80s and 90s. And over the decades, as the local economy struggled, people moved out, property values fell and crime rates went up. That left entire neighborhoods in Flint in disrepair.

â??Flint was really turned upside down,â?? Hammond said.

In 2010 Salem Housing secured Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funds, federal dollars granted to communities hit by foreclosures and abandonment.

â??Those dollars were allocated to really turn a house into a showpiece,â?? Hammond said.

It takes about a year for Salem Housing to buy the homes, renovate them and put them on the market. It can cost up to $170,000 to renovate a home, which includes foundation repairs, stalling energy-efficient appliances and bringing the home up to code.

The buyer's price-tag? Less than $30,000.

â??It's a win for everyone,â?? Hammond said.

After completing Salem's homebuyerâ??s workshop, Regina Porter will move into her home next month. She's brimming with ideas.

â??I love it,â?? she grinned. â??I'm in love already.â??

Just around the corner, on Welch Blvd., Yolanda Hughes and her husband are eagerly awaiting their move-in date. They have a purchase agreement in place for a second NSP-funded renovated home Salem is selling.

â??I'm ready to be a Welch homeowner!â?? Yolanda Hughes said.

Like Porter, the Hughes are part of a new wave of Flint investors. Their impact on the grand scale is arguably insignificant. Flint has roughly 11,000 vacant homes, a nearly 25 percent vacancy rate according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

â??If you think if change in the terms of smaller increments, then you can see change almost immediately,â?? Hammond said.

Porter and the Hughes said theyâ??re doing more than just building their own dreams. They're building a brighter future in Flint.

â??I could say, move back to Flint because soon it's gonna be looking lovely again,â?? Lutent Hughes said.

â??There's no other way - we have to invest in our community,â?? Porter said. â??Itâ??s very important to me.â??