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How the Flint water crisis is affecting business

Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio

Mark Masters of TDM Realtors in Flint says it's hard to keep tenants and even harder to attract new ones.

"I mean one of the first questions I get, it used to be 'is that a good neighborhood' and now it’s 'is that Flint water,'" said Masters.

Last spring he started getting calls from some of the company’s 300 renters that something wasn’t right with their water.

“When they switched over to Flint River water it increased my workload as far as maintenance, because I started getting tons of calls of people complaining about 'now my water is smelling, now my water is discolored.'

I’m having to send my guys over to these houses and we're tearing apart [systems] because we thought it was us. At first we were thinking is it the water heaters ... so that’s when it got really costly on us.”

Right from the start, there were costs associated with the Flint water problem for Masters' business. And that’s on top of what Masters says are already pretty high water bills in Flint.

Credit Mercedes Mejia/Michigan Radio
Mark Masters keeps a box of keys from all the properties he's lost over the years.

"Just alone, there are four charges on a Flint bill. You get a service charge, that’s just water coming into the house, not even using it there’s a charge. ... And then you turn on the tap and paying more than just about anyone in the country."  

That’s just for a single-family home. According to Masters, his renters also have to pay a hefty fee just to get the water turned on.

"I have to charge a water deposit to move you in the house to get services on. So, still right now, you have to pay a $325 water deposit to get your water turned on for something you can’t use. So that’s the real crying shame here, is people can’t even use it, but we’ve getting billed for it every day," Masters says.

So it’s like paying for a piece of cake you can’t eat. You just get to stare at it through the window, and it’s not fair, and a lot of these people don’t have the money."

Adding to his frustration, Masters says the water crisis happened right when it seemed things were turning a corner.

"It’s just a struggle. You think things are starting to go good. ... You take one step forward and you get pushed back three.”

It’s tough enough running a business in the struggling city of Flint. But, when you’re running a restaurant in a city suffering through the worst tainted water crisis that Michigan can remember, you’ve really got your work cut out for you.

"It deters people from coming to this area or wanting to stay here is the main thing," said Neil Helmkay, district manager for Angelo’s Coney Island, which has been a Flint landmark since opening in 1949.

Credit Courtesy of Robb Klaty
Flint native Robb Klaty moved back to the city to help rebuild in 2009.


Robb Klaty owns a number of Flint eateries, including The Flint Crepe Company. He says the water problem in Flint has become politicized, but all he wants are answers.
"There is just lots of accusations, and it's tough to get to what I'd like to see, which is just action and sensible policy."

Listen to our interview with restaurateurs Robb Klaty and Neil Helmkay.

Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of Stateside.
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