West Flint shift blamed on ‘white flight’ in report
Ron Fonger, Flint Journal, Jun. 27
FLINT — White residents are packing up and leaving Flint’s west side at an alarming rate — much faster than other areas of the city’s blacks become the majority in some neighborhoods for the first time.
In some areas where they were a majority in 1990, whites now make up only 10 percent of the population.
It is evident on streets around Northern High School, Ballenger Park and north of Civic Park Elementary School.
Although Flint lost thousands of white residents from 1990-2000, according to census records, the departures are especially dramatic in five census tracts leading up to the western-most edge of the city.
In that area:
Whites accounted for 69 percent of the population in an area bordered by Flushing and Mackin roads in 1990 but just 22 percent 10 years later.
Whites were a majority of the population in 1990 from Mackin Road to Welch Boulevard but accounted for only one in 10 people in 2000.
The census tract that includes the sought-after Mott Park neighborhood was almost exclusively white (93 percent) in 1990. By 2000, the tract was 76 percent white and 18 percent black.
“When I moved in nine years ago, I didn’t notice a lot of black families. Now it’s not unusual at all,” said Mott Park resident Steve Wandmacher, 39, who is white.
“I don’t think it’s white flight as much as elderly people” moving out, he said.
The population shifts have caught the attention of the Genesee County Fair Housing Center, which mentioned the trend in a major report on racial shifting. The report first was released about two years ago but was updated as recently as last week.
Edward Hoort, executive director of Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, which runs the center, said the large number of whites leaving the west side is a sign of white flight and racism.
“People don’t mind integration until they start to feel outnumbered,” Hoort said, citing studies that show whites move out faster when the number of blacks moving into an area passes a certain threshold.
“I think it’s a theory that is probably true (and) that’s been a historical pattern in Flint,” he said. “As soon as we hit that magic number, people run.”
“(The racial shifting is) remarkably scary, and what it means for our community is remarkably scary.”
The 2000 Census showed that in Genesee and other older, urban Michigan counties, black populations grew at a far faster pace than whites.
It’s pockets like the west side of Flint and, to a lesser degree, Flint Township and Mt. Morris Township that have fueled that pattern. Flint Township gained 2,824 black and 549 Hispanic residents from 1990-2000, but its white population dropped by 4,033 — 13 percent.
Mt. Morris Township’s black and Hispanic populations also saw gains while the number of white residents fell 18 percent in the same 10 year period.
Chester Coulter, 33, who lives on Copeman Boulevard near Milbourne Avenue, said he and his mother moved here more than 10 years ago from the Gundry Elementary School area, farther north in the city, for a better quality of life.
Coulter, who is black, notices several houses on his street where people come and go quickly, adding to the racial shifting.
Just 10 percent of the people in his census tract are white, compared to 54 percent in 1990.
“Everybody gets along,” he said of his block, sweeping the sidewalk in front of his home. White neighbors “have been nice,” Coulter said. “We don’t have too many problems.”
County Commissioner Floyd Clack, D-Flint, who represents much of the area where the percentage of white residents has dropped, said the changes are similar to shifts that have happened elsewhere in the city at different times.
“I don’t think it’s any different than how things have been going since the 1960s,” Clack said. “Whites move out. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. . . . People will come back.”
Clack said some whites are likely leaving the west side because they feel uncomfortable as they become the minority in their neighborhood. But, he said, he’s noticed more young white families moving into the city.
Blacks are mostly moving west from other parts of the city and finding established neighborhoods “better than they are coming from,” Clack said.
Richard Taylor, a member of Calvary United Methodist Church on Flushing Road in Flint, said parishioners in his church have seen the neighborhood around the church change over the years. The church is in the west-side area where the racial statistics have shifted so much.
Taylor, who is white, moved back to Flint 12 years ago. He said church members have started taking prayer walks to acquaint members better with the people who live around the church.
“We recognize the neighborhood needs us, and we need the neighborhood,” said Taylor, 70.
Farther north, Haskell Independent Crime Watch President John Foote calls himself an anomaly in his neighborhood in Census Tract 9, which stretches from Pasadena Avenue to Welch Boulevard.
Whites made up 8 percent of the population in that area in 2000, down from 29 percent in 1990. He moved into the neighborhood more than 30 years ago and believes the area has declined as fewer people own their own homes.
“I’ve had friends say, ‘Why in the hell don’t you leave?’” Foote said. “(But) my wife and I are not harassed for being what we are. We try to live in peace.”