As of May of this year, the Land Bank of Genesee County has an inventory of 11,623 abandoned properties in one of the most depressed and violent areas of the country. Conceived as a way to prevent urban plight, the Land Bank seizes properties when owners are no longer able to pay taxes. But with falling property values, coupled with bankruptcy, unemployment, and out-migration, homeowners prefer to leave the area rather than purchase the properties from the Land Bank, even at bargain prices.
 
There are 9,534 abandoned properties in Flint, the county seat, which had a population in excess of 200,000 in 1960. The 2010 census showed a population over just over 100,000. The collapse of the automobile industry meant job losses, and spiraling deterioration of the tax base. Factories were shuttered and razed, and schools are being closed and demolished too since the number of students has declined along with the funds required for maintenance. Drug-related murders and other crimes in Flint has earned it the sobriquet of America’s most violent city.
 
Abandoned properties are not only an eyesore, but a danger to the community as well since they harbor criminals and pests. In recent years, abandoned buildings have been set alight by arsonists. One of the worst spates of arson came in 2010 during a labor dispute between the city and its unionized firefighters. Some observers were quick to point out the coincidence.
 
The executive director of the Land Bank, Doug Weiland, said over the June 29-30 weekend that his agency does not have the resources to cut the lawns of these abandoned structures nor clear overgrown plots. With the considerable rain the area has received over the last week, some lawns are showing grass and vegetation some five feet high that may now go uncut during the balance of the summer. According to an article in the Flint Journal, Weiland said that the Land Bank would normally do two mowings in the summer but now has only enough funds for one mowing. Some lots, according to the Land Bank schedule will not receive a trim until October of this year.
 
Because the agency had not received federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services in the form of a Community Development Grant, mowing did not commence until June 12 and well into the growing season. Funding from Genesee County is on hold while a judge decides whether or not the county can disburse the funds without approval from the county commissioners. 
 
A local community organizer called on citizens to either buy or lease vacant properties from the Land Bank and then step up to do the maintenance themselves The Land Bank is providing funds to more than 40 community groups to maintain 1,360 lots. 
 
The Land Bank is hoping to move forward with demolitions of abandoned buildings, once federal funding is approved. Since 2009, the agency has removed more than 5 million pounds of refuse from blighted properties under its control. 
 
Besides abandoned properties, the city and county cannot maintain properties that were already under their control before taxpayers fled. Public parks, golf courses, and other facilities are going without maintenance or mowing due to budget cuts. The State of Michigan is providing additional patrols by state troopers because of the lack of adequate numbers of city police. The city is currently under state management since the mayor and city council were found to be unable to adequately address public expenditures and tax shortfalls.
 
US Rep. Dan Kildee (D) was the originator of the land bank concept in Genesee County while serving as the county treasurer. He received worldwide attention for his attempt to stop blight by seizing private property. The nephew of his immediate predecessor in the 5th Congressional District of Michigan, Rep. Dale Kildee (D), the younger Kildee has been asked by the Obama administration to expand his land-bank concept to other cities in the so-called Rust Belt. At the age of eighteen, Kildee was elected to his first political post, and was later re-elected several times as Genesee County treasurer.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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