The two cities stand on opposite ends of the spectrum in so many ways. On one side is Flint, Mich., the former General Motors factory town whose struggles were portrayed in filmmaker Michael Moore's "Roger & Me." On the other is Stamford, Conn., home to countless New York City commuters and the largest city in affluent Fairfield County.

Not surprisingly, housing costs for these two cities are polar opposites. According to a recent report based on the 2000 Census, Stamford ranks as the most expensive U.S. city of 100,000 residents or more for homeowners with a mortgage, who pay a median of $2,203 monthly for housing. In Flint, Mich., those mortgage-holding homeowners pay more than two-thirds less--a median of $640 a month.

But the housing picture for both cities is more nuanced than the Census statistics represent. In Flint, growth has finally come to the surrounding county, and local builders are currently developing the first significant new-home community within Flint city limits in a quarter-century. In single-family, detached-oriented Stamford, builders and buyers now are turning to townhomes and condos to accommodate strong demand on limited land.

New choices

Flint is hardly the epicenter of the nation's housing boom. Most of the building taking place in the area is happening in fast-growing Genesee County, where Flint is located. Within the city, the housing stock tends to be existing homes, which are often well-maintained but still decades old. The average sales price, according to Barry Simon, executive director of the HBA of Metro Flint: $50,000. "There is no new-housing market in Flint," he says.

But smart builders, working with local government, have been able to create one on a small scale.

Two years ago, Westminster Abbey Homes opened the first phase of University Park, a 150-home community built on reclaimed land in Flint. "Too many builders think the next market is where the next farmer's field is," says Stephen Taglione, president and CEO of Westminster, who is doing the infill project with fellow Michigan builder Crosswinds Communities. Located only 10 blocks from downtown Flint, University Park has quickly captured customers, with 19 homes recently selling in two weeks. Buyers, especially older couples who'd been living elsewhere in Flint, snapped the homes up, paying between $115,000 and $200,000 for a new single-family home in an entirely new community, down to the streets, curbs, and open space. "They didn't have any choices before, but given a choice, they made their interest clear," says Taglione. "When we showed up, there hadn't been any new homes here in 30 years."

Going condo

In Stamford, choices have been similarly limited for would-be homeowners. "There has been very little new construction in Stamford," says Jerry Effren, principal of The Greyrock Cos., a luxury builder based in nearby Norwalk, Conn. "It's been either high-end or rentals. ... The marketplace is hungry for good ownership opportunities."

Such opportunities are coming more in attached product, as builders and buyers focus on townhomes and condos over single-family detached homes. Price isn't exactly the issue--a middle-class existing Stamford home runs about $700,000, while many of the hot-selling townhomes sell for $500,000 or more--time is. "The people who are young and make enough to afford to live here don't have time for maintenance," says Randy Salvatore of Stamford-based RMS Construction. "They're working the hours."

Still, the increased density and relatively lower prices of attached homes are expected to affect Stamford's $2,000-plus median monthly housing cost. "I think there are enough larger projects coming along that the next time that statistic comes out, it will be much lower," Effren predicts.