Here & Now Here & Now

Water Crisis Makes Flint Real Estate A Hard Sell10:46

Play
This five bedroom, five bathroom home in Flint is selling for $135,000, down from over $160,000, because of water crisis. (Robin Young/Here & Now)closemore
This five bedroom, five bathroom home in Flint is selling for $135,000, down from over $160,000, because of water crisis. (Robin Young/Here & Now)

Flint has been on an economic roller coaster since the 1980s. Once a wealthy city where one in two adults worked for General Motors, it was hit hard by the early 1980s recession and has been declining ever since. But locals thought the city might be coming back when the Flint water crisis began in 2014.

Here & Now's Robin Young takes a tour of Flint with real estate agent Chris Theodoroff and learns that bargain prices can't make up for tainted water. “Unfortunately, because you are in the city of Flint, because we have this water crisis, because we lost the jobs that we did from 2000 to 2010, the prices have been hammered,” Theodoroff explains.

Interview Highlights: Chris Theodoroff

On the homes and neighborhood where he grew up

Real estate agent Chris Theodoroff points to a home that would have sold for far more money before the water crisis. (Robin Young/Here & Now)
Real estate agent Chris Theodoroff points to a home that would have sold for far more money before the water crisis. (Robin Young/Here & Now)

“This was a blue-collar, and back in the '50s, this was a very vibrant neighborhood. What happened is people moved out, their children moved away, the jobs left the area and this was an area that these people could walk to the Buick plant, they could walk downtown to the Chevrolet plant, and neither one of those plants are here anymore.”

We passed blocks of houses with lights on, and then a block with no houses. These were taken down?

“They were taken down. They were empty houses, we were afraid of the crime that would come with an empty house. Copper thefts, drug use and things of that nature."

This area looks very dangerous for children.

“It is. This is an area of some of the oldest housing in the community, and this would be an area that has a problem with water.”

Flint was devastated by the auto industry collapse, and then by the water crisis.

“We were starting to pull out from the automotive crisis, we had, on a county-wide basis, our square-footage had been increased about $10 a square foot over about a 14 to 16 month period. That’s a big jump. The problem we’re having now is, no one desires – we’re not getting the inquiries that we did for housing in the city.

The blight that began with car companies leaving Flint has been made worse by water crisis. (Robin Young.Here & Now)
The blight that began with car companies leaving Flint has been made worse by water crisis. (Robin Young.Here & Now)

What happens with the blocks of unused housing?

“That’s the dilemma we’re facing right now. The houses that we just stopped in front of, that will be torn down. The houses that you see without windows and doors, those are waiting to be torn down, and with federal money they will be torn down.”

But you cannot build houses on these lots until there are pipes unaffected by lead water.

“That is correct, and that’s where we are in the process of that right now. State money is coming in, federal money is coming in. Yesterday was the first day that they literally started removing some lead pipes from one of the neighborhoods.”

How are real estate agents in Flint surviving?

“When you’re licensed in Michigan, you’re licensed in the whole state, so not everyone sells in Flint. There are a number of thriving suburban areas where a lot of business goes on on a daily basis. Where I happen to live in Fenton is very much in demand.”

What has to happen? Is it just the water that will start the comeback?

“We had started the comeback, that I want to make very clear, we had started the comeback. We feel we can do it again and will do it again if the infrastructure is changed so that I can say to you, not only can you get a property like this at a phenomenal price, but you have a new infrastructure under it, the water is clean. We will attract young people because of the low cost.”

You have a lot invested in this.

“I will never walk away from this community. This is the place I was raised, my parents had a very wonderful life here, they had their children – all of my brothers and I are college educated, we were raised here with an amazing amount of love. My first job, I was paid by the Mott Foundation to work at an elementary school. We are hard-working people, we will bring this city back. I promise you that.”

Reporter

+Join the Discussion
Please help keep our community civil. All comments must follow the WBUR Community rules.
Share

Support the news

Next Up

Where to now?

More Here & Now or Explore Audio.