Thursday, September 4, 2008

Improving Flint from afar

The Charles W. Nash House, owned and cared for by Flint Expatriate Rich Bennett, who points out it was pink when he bought it, so he doesn't want any complaints from historic preservationists. (This photo and many other great shots of Carriage Town by sarrazak6881.)

Yesterday's post on out-of-town property owners in Flint looked at some of the negative aspects of absentee investors. It prompted Flint Expatriate Sarah Swart to comment: "I'm wondering if any of these out-of-towners (which, remember, are only one of numerous OOT options, including bank ownership) are actually expats. Personally, I am tempted by the $900 home in Carriage Town and by one on Forest Hill Ave listed for $4,000. I'm not a real estate investor, I'm pro-local and -civic action, and I'm very tempted. "

You're not alone, Sarah. I've been tempted as well. And in the past week I've had the chance to reconnect with another Flintoid who has already taken the plunge. Rich Bennett went to St. Mary's School and graduated from Powers in 1983, so he has deep roots in Flint. He's now a real estate agent in San Francisco and the proud owner of the Charles W. Nash House in Carriage Town, a fine example of Queen Anne-style architecture that's designated as a Michigan Historic Site. He also owns two other Flint properties.

In typical Flint fashion, Rich and I met at a bar, The Latin Amercan Club, to catch up. When we were done discussing the relative merits of the paddle versus the ruler from the nuns at St. Mary's, we talked about Flint real estate. Unlike some absentee owners, he's restoring his properties and working to improve his neighborhood away from home. His sister is local, so she helps him with the projects, and he's hooked into the network of local preservationists, contractors and urban homesteaders. He makes regular trips back to Flint and hopes to eventually rent some of the properties. But right now the goal is improving them.

"It's seems like Flint's leaders have always been looking for one big project to fix everything — Autoworld, Water Street Pavilion, Windmill Place," he said. "Flint is going to improve with a lot of small efforts all added together."

Rich's effort is buying a few houses, fixing them up, and making them an asset, rather than a detriment, to the neighborhood. The fact he's in San Francisco doesn't matter much at this point. He's improving Flint from afar. It's an approach more absentee owners should take to heart. It's also the approach many local property owners could embrace. After all, the majority of Flint's slumlords are probably local.


  1. There are a lot of expats out there (like me!) interested in doing just that. The one thing that puts me off, though, is getting reliable tenants over a longer term as well as the potential travel if/when something goes wrong. Overseas is a bit far away, so to speak, and I doubt if it would be worth it to pay a third party firm to handle that sort of thing in this case. That said - I'm writing this without having any concrete figures to go on and without having done any serious research. Nevertheless, it's a very tempting idea, not just for the civic part of it, but because I have always wanted to restore an old house.

    For anyone who may know or remember them, some of the Skellett's (another long-time Flint and Powers family) have fixed up and live in a few houses over in the Ann Arbor and Stockton area. There was an article about their efforts several years ago in the Flint Journal, most likely a weekend edition, though I struck out finding it.

  2. If I had the money, I would join my sister in seriously considering buying one or two properties in Flint.

    Gordie, your post on an increase in UofM students really made me think about a college town is always upwardly mobile.

    Good job in letting us know the issues and what we can do from afar to help out.

  3. I am feeling a little sick to my stomach. When our Bassett Pl. house was in the final minutes of the e-bay auction, my husband threatened to buy it. I told him I wouldn't forgive him if he did. Now I'm thinking...WE SHOULD HAVE BOUGHT IT!!! It sold for $12,600.
    Lori B.

  4. Nice to see both the positive and negative of Flint. Not to be a debbiedowner, but as someone who isn't handy nor businesslike, I can only say that fixing up an old house is ALOT of work... although perhaps it's easier when you're not actually living in it. Still keeping on top of things from afar is tricky. You'd have to know your contractor fairly well to do that. Love the pink house though.

    It's interesting about the college town possibility. Does anyone know, has the renting of houses been working for the neighborhoods around Kettering (aka GMI)?

  5. Rich can stand tall for the job he's done on the place. I'd put his place up against any of the historical register houses in bayview.
    One of my old neighborhood's "kids" has done some great gleaning from some of the older, more upper class homes that are slated for the wrecker's ball. He lined up a contract w/the city, and he's salvaging the old woodwork-wainscoting, banisters,etc., all very expensive hardwoods and rare now, plus any and all fixtures, etc. He gave me a rundown on some of the items He's saved and sold, and His passion was evident, for gaining/giving something positive from flint, to people. the city's letting him use some of their trucks, and leasing him storage space at a nominal fee also. I doubt that the conman had anything to do with this op though, as this Young man is making a profit, and keeping His employees happy/working. He and I are on the same page for Environmental issues also. That conversation w/Him about this project, in Flint, was refreshing.

  6. It's about time someone is salvaging the components of these houses before they meet the wrecking ball. I remember my brother (at age 15) wanted to save a door from my Grandfather's home before they tore it down, but my mom wouldn't let him (understandably so, because it most likely would still be in her garage now if she had). It's still sad to see old houses/neighborhoods go down via the wrecking ball though.

  7. E'nuff z'nuff with the Flint "college town" hooey. Every other sh**sburg in the industrial midwest thinks it's local college will save its bacon. Colleges are maxed out. UMF doesn't offer (m)any programs to attract out of region students and GMI's auto engineering concentration ain't exactly cutting edge. GMI has had thousands of dudes (90%) holed up in various ramshackle frat houses, apartments, and party pads (lame ass sausage parties though) for decades and what? What sorta spin-off do you get? Rubes and that party store on 3rd and Chevrolet. Thats it.
    F the colleges. Seriously.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at