Blight Demolition Fund to receive billions more under push by Kildee

GENESEE COUNTY — Flint Township and other area municipalities with blighted properties under the jurisdiction of the Genesee County Land Bank stand to benefit from a bill passed by the U.S. Congress last week, according to a December 18 press release.

By a vote of 313-116, Congress passed an omnibus spending plan that includes a provision fought for by Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee to transfer $2 billion more into the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF), a program that has already helped to remove and repurpose thousands of abandoned properties in cities across Michigan. Additionally, these new funds would have greater flexibility and could be used to make additional progress on removing blight, including past 2017, when the funds currently expire.

Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, along with a bipartisan coalition of Michigan’s congressional delegation in the House, supported this new provision in the year-end government-funding bill.

“Getting rid of abandoned properties in cities like Flint, Saginaw and Detroit helps to strengthen neighborhoods and decrease crime,” Congressman Kildee said. “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.”

The Hardest Hit Fund was originally designed – and is still working – to keep people in their homes and prevent additional foreclosures after the Great Recession.

In recent years, due to Congressman Kildee’s efforts in Congress, the U.S. Treasury Department determined that removing blight in communities helps to stabilize and strengthen neighborhoods. Since 2013, Congressman Kildee has helped to secure over $200 million for Michigan cities to help get rid of large quantities of blight, including $32.7 million most recently in October. In Flint alone, nearly 2,000 run-down properties have been torn down and the land repurposed.

In a House Financial Services Committee hearing in March, Congressman Kildee spoke with U.S. Department of Treasury Secretary Jack Lew about transferring unused resources in the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) to the HHF for blight removal. Following up on that conversation, Congressman Kildee met with Treasury officials in April to push for additional federal resources. In September, Congressman Kildee also hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill focusing on federal policies that can help support cities like Flint, Saginaw and Detroit, including blight removal.

In July, Congressman Kildee, working with Senators Stabenow and Peters, also successfully fought back against a proposal introduced in the U.S. Senate to rescind the money allocated through the HHF and marked for Michigan blight demolitions.

Independent studies have shown that removing blight and abandonment in cities like Detroit, Flint and Saginaw leads to greater economic opportunity for communities. 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. Additionally, by removing abandoned properties in the community, crime and arson rates are reduced.

“Since being sworn into Congress, one of my top priorities has been to secure resources and ensure cities and towns are able to remove and repurpose abandoned homes,” Congressman Kildee said. “Working with Senator Stabenow, Senator Peters and others, I am pleased that our efforts have resulted in more funds to remove blight and revitalize our communities.”

Congressman Kildee has an extensive background in housing policy and land use issues. In 2002, as Genesee County Treasurer, he founded the Genesee County Land Bank – Michigan’s first land bank – and served as its Chairman from 2002 until 2009. Congressman Kildee’s successful land bank model has helped to inspire over 100 other communities to start similar models to help create opportunity and foster development, including in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Syracuse, N.Y., and Fulton County, Ga. He also previously co-founded and served as the President & CEO of the Center for Community Progress, a national non-profit organization focused on supporting America’s older, industrial cities.

“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, Ohio, who now is the Vice President of the Western Reserve Land Conservancy.”

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