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Some still moving in to Flint, despite many more moving out

9417514-largeOriginal story by Kristin Longley

for MLive
March 25, 2011

Flint, MI — Joshua Spencer never thought he’d own a large family home at age 30, let alone a six-bedroom, brick-and-mortar estate complete with spiral staircase and grand chandelier.

But it was an easy enough find in the city of Flint, and Spencer jumped at the chance, joining a small number of people moving in to the city of Flint despite a wave of people moving out.

Census data released this week shows Flint had a net population loss of nearly 23,000 people over the last decade, an average decline of more than 2,000 people a year. The city’s population has plummeted to 102,434, the lowest it’s been since the 1920s.

Still, there’s something about Flint that persuades some, like Spencer, to swim against the current.

“You can’t find a home that’s built like a home in Flint,” said Spencer, who moved in to the affluent Woodcroft Estates subdivision on the southwest side. “For the same price you’re going to find a ’70s suburban home that’s boring, you can find a gorgeous place that has a lot of history right in the city.”

Flint-area Realtor Chris Theodoroff said he’s seeing single people, retirees and young families moving to Flint.

The main reason? The prices.

“They’re paying phenomenally low prices,” said Theodoroff, who’s been selling real estate for 31 years. “They’re actually maxing out their dollars on what they’re getting.”

The average home in Flint sold for $59,000 in 2005. Last year, the average sale price was $15,000, according to Doug Weiland of the Genesee County Land Bank.

Real estate agents kept pointing Spencer, who owns The Spencer Agency in downtown Flint, to homes in Grand Blanc, Flint Township and other out-county areas, but he was adamant about finding a house in Flint.

He nabbed the 5,600-square-feet Woodcroft Estates home for $250,000. Built in 1929, it has wood floors, ornate crown molding throughout the house and plaster walls, he said.

In fact, Spencer was so enamored with the charm and prices of Flint homes, he bought two — two houses in a city with Depression-era unemployment, record homicides last year and the second-highest vacancy rate of major cities in the state. The second home is a rental in the college and cultural neighborhood.

Those problems didn’t faze Spencer, nor did they deter Sophia Taylor, who also recently moved to Flint and purchased several homes all over the city. She’s fixing them up for her public access show, “Rehabin’ Da Hood.”

A Flint native and daughter of former city Councilman Matthew Taylor, she moved back to her hometown after living the big-city life in California and several other places.

She figures she can live cheaper in Flint and still do what she needs to do in other cities.

“You come back and see this city is lacking,” Taylor said. “If you have any kind of energy about yourself you say, ‘Wow, I can provide this.’ You come back here with new eyes.”

It seems Spencer, Taylor and others to investing in Flint all appreciate history, love a good bargain and, perhaps most of all, enjoy a challenge.

“It bothers me that I tell people I live in Flint, and they say, ‘Oh, why the heck are you doing that?’” said Brad Mikus, 33. “You kind of want to prove them wrong.”

Mikus, 33, is a University of Michigan-Flint student living in the newly refurbished Durant apartments, formerly the historic Durant Hotel.

He loves the location, and would consider buying a house in the city, but not quite yet. For every strength — the history, the downtown area, the college — there are just as many weaknesses, he said.

“It’s frustrating living in Flint,” he said. “But I see a challenge and I see the potential.”

The numbers show Flint’s challenges are leading more people away from the city than into its borders.


Milton has lived in Flint for less than two weeks in a rental home near Ballenger Park on the west side, but she’s already ready to leave. She and her husband moved from the Port Huron area to be closer to her husband’s young son.

In her first week she received a cold introduction to Flint: three homicides and a house explosion in one day. Since then, she’s heard gunshots at night and had problems with loose dogs.

“I’m freaking out,” said Milton, 48. “Seriously, I stopped unpacking stuff because I don’t want to be here.”

But for all Flint’s problems, there are still those who prefer an urban lifestyle and the historic homes.

“We’ve both been around enough to know every city has its challenges,” said Ron Sims, 43, who recently bought a home in Flint with his partner, Mike Melenbrink.

The pair, who co-own The Torch Bar in downtown Flint, are moving back to the city after living in Montrose since 2003. Their Georgian Colonial home was built by Mayor George Kellar circa 1916, and went on the market at “the right price at the right time,” Sims said.

“We knew what we were getting into,” he said. “Most days, we can both say it’s worth being back in town.”

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