Ashara Manns has lived in her Flint home her entire life. There had never been a porch off the back door, and for many years her front porch had been unstable and dangerous.
She often worried about letting her children play on the porch or having guests over. When she bought the home more than five years ago, she knew there were improvements she needed to make. But loans were hard to come by due to credit requirements and high interest rates.
However, the Flint Home Improvement Fund, launched in February of 2021, made home projects possible. The innovative program was created through public-private partnerships to help Flint homeowners of all income levels repair, improve and renovate their homes through low- or no-interest loans.
Through the Flint HIF, Manns had her front porch rebuilt, a back porch constructed and new gutters installed. She also was able to utilize other programs to get new siding on her home.
“The porch was very unsafe. I didn’t have any [railings] to keep the kids or anyone from jumping off or falling off,” Manns said. “When we first got home, when we first saw our new porch, I called my aunt and my sister on video. And they were crying, and I was crying. The kids were excited. I took pictures of them, and we had a dance party.
“We were so excited. It looks so nice.”
For several years, foundations, nonprofits and government agencies have understood the need for a program to increase access to resources for home improvements beyond existing grant-based programs for low- and moderate-income homeowners.
Low home values in Flint can make it hard for some homeowners to secure loans for needed improvements. In addition, many existing programs have income requirements and are not available to all Flint homeowners. To remove these barriers and strengthen Flint’s neighborhoods, city and state government, local nonprofit organizations and philanthropies, and a major bank joined together to create the Flint HIF.
The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is a major funder, granting a total of more than $900,000 to Genesee County Habitat for Humanity to support the program.
“A real blessing for us”
Since the Flint HIF launched, more than 20 projects throughout Flint’s nine wards have been completed, and another dozen are in the works. Homeowners have replaced gutters and siding, repaired roofs and porches, replaced boilers, and installed new flooring and countertops, among other projects.
Habitat for Humanity, which manages the program and oversees the home repair process, is not currently accepting new applications, as staff members continue to process more than 200 applications already submitted. But they hope to reopen the process again by the end of 2022.
“Every time we do a project, you see neighbors coming out and repairing their homes and fixing their yards, so it really does help stabilize neighborhoods,” said Tom Hutchison, Habitat for Humanity executive director. “It’s been great to see all the work that we’ve done through the Home Improvement Fund. I love going into houses that have been fully upgraded. I love driving by houses and being able to say Habitat for Humanity had a hand in making that family’s life better.”
Shirley Godwin loved her home, but the carpet and the dust and other particles it held were harmful to her health and the breathing issues she developed over the years. Through the Flint HIF, she was able to remove all the carpet from her home and replace it with vinyl plank flooring. She recalled the first time she peeked in her front door and saw the flooring as it was being installed.
“I just busted out and started crying. And it’s been such a blessing to me,” Godwin said. “And, oh, my god. You are talking about such a joy that came down, and a peace came within me. I was so happy.”
Cecil and Melody Noronha have lived in their home since 1998. Through the Flint HIF, they were able to replace an old boiler, rebuild their front steps, rebuild one of their chimneys and repair plaster throughout the home.
“We chose to apply for the Flint Home Improvement Fund because it gave us just a tremendous opportunity to have so many critical repairs that were necessary for the home. We take a tremendous amount of pride in our home and in our neighborhood. This program has helped us to really bring the house up to a standard where we can feel really good about ourselves and our neighborhood,” Cecil Noronha said. “This program has actually given us that opportunity to take care of some things that just would not have been able to be done without it, so it has just been a real blessing for us.”
To be eligible for the Flint HIF, applicants must own and occupy as their primary residence a single-family home in the city of Flint. Loan approval is based on available funding. Low- or no-interest loans of up to $20,000 are available, and residents may not have to pay back all of the loan. The amount to be paid back is determined on a sliding scale based on household income.