City of East Lansing Will Finally Seek a Housing Study

Wednesday, November 20, 2019, 7:47 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

The rear of the downtown Landmark apartments as seen from the new parking garage. (Photo by Raymond Holt)

After much talk by many players about how “we need a housing study,” planning staff for the City of East Lansing are finally ready to take the step of asking external consultants what they might offer in this regard.

Last night, East Lansing’s City Council voted 5-0 to direct the staff to issue a “Request for Qualifications and Proposals.” The RFQP will now be polished, published, and sent to possible consultants in an effort to have various firms pitch their ideas and prices for a study of the past, present, and future of housing needs in East Lansing.

The draft RFQP considered last night at City Council is aimed at finding answers to questions like:

  • What might happen if more high-rise, near-campus student housing is constructed, given that thousands of new student-focused units are already scheduled to be “coming online” here in the span of just a few years?
  • Is it possible that rental houses downtown might convert from student rentals to family rentals or from student rentals to owner-occupied homes? If so, under what conditions?
  • What might happen with the hundreds of student rental units in the Northern Tier as so much near-campus student housing is developed?
  • What is likely to happen to older rental stock, like smaller apartment buildings?
  • Is there a way to provide housing downtown that attracts non-students, including senior citizens, non-students with lower incomes, and families?

Last night, members of Council expressed enthusiasm for getting this study done.

Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens asked that staff make clear the City is interested in knowing not only if rental houses could flip to become owner-occupied, but if downtown student rental housing might become attractive to families looking to rent.

Council member Jessy Gregg asked to make sure that attention is paid to the question of the viability of owner-occupied condo apartments downtown. Is there demand, she asked? Could demand be cultivated somehow?

Council member Mark Meadows “agreed completely” with Gregg on this point, saying he believes there is a “huge demand” for condo apartments downtown, so he can’t understand why developers say they are not viable economically.

“We need to figure out a way to encourage that market,” Meadows said.

Many developers have toyed with the idea of owner-occupied condos downtown, chiefly in an effort to meet the City’s special requirement that big downtown housing developments have at least 25 percent of their units designed for someone other than student renters. (The 25 percent rule allows for owner-occupied condos or senior housing or housing restricted to people with lower incomes.) But in each case of late, developers facing the 25 percent requirement have ended up saying the financing for condo development is not available.

Built before the recession, the City Center Condos above CVS and Omi Sushi are owner-occupied condo apartments. Those condos are said to sell easily when they come to the market.

The development at the corner of Bailey Street and Albert Avenue, known as Albert Place, also includes condo apartments, but many have historically been rented. On the west side of Valley Court Park, the West Village development includes condo townhouses and condo “flats,” some of which are rented.

A common misperception is that the “active senior” housing in Newman Lofts, on Albert Street above the new parking garage, is condos. These are, in fact, rental units restricted to people age 55 and older.

In terms of big new “market-rate” housing – the kind of apartments that typically attract undergraduate student renters – this year has seen the opening of The Landmark on Grand River Avenue (above Target) as part of the Center City District project and The Hub at the corner of Grand River Avenue and Bogue Street.

“The Abbot” at the corner of Abbot Road and Grand River Avenue is set to open next summer and that will feature about 200 more “market-rate” rental apartments. Meridian Township and Lansing are also seeing near-campus development of hundreds more “market-rate” rental apartments.

Council is trying to consider all this in conjunction with the question of what to do with the DDA’s properties on Evergreen Avenue. (We’ll be bringing a separate report on that specific issue.)

The RFQP for the housing study will ask interested firms to submit proposals that include information about the firm, examples of their past work, their proposed methodology, and costs. If there are multiple viable proposals, City Council will decide who will do the study.

Last night at Council, Director of Planning Tom Fehrenbach told Council that he thought, given the holidays, it makes sense to put a 45-day deadline on the RFQP.

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