East Lansing takes on Michigan’s early literacy slump

A long line of people waits inside the Hannah Community Center, reaching almost all the way to the front doors. Parents with baby carriers and strollers stand chatting with each other. Children scamper up and down the hallways. The crowd has gathered for an unlikely reason: to celebrate early literacy. Early literacy is lagging in Michigan, where overall reading levels have been in decline since 2003 and only 44 percent of third-graders are proficient readers, according to 2016-2017 state assessment data from the State of Michigan Education Report.

East Lansing offering unique assistance to homeless families

While Greater Lansing provides a variety of resources for individuals dealing with homelessness, East Lansing’s Haven House targets families in need. In 2015, members of families comprised over half of the homeless population in Michigan, according to data from the Homeless Management Information System. In Ingham County, the numbers are similar. Roughly 46 percent of people dealing with homelessness are families and children, according to the Greater Lansing Area 2015 Annual Homeless Report. “Homelessness is an issue throughout the greater Lansing region,” said Amy Schlusler-Schmitt, East Lansing’s community development and engagement manager.

Does East Lansing need to have a better dialogue about religious freedom and sexuality?

University towns like East Lansing can be pivotal places of self-discovery and debate, but some say a better dialogue is still needed when it comes to religious freedom and sexual identity. Conversations between churches and the LGBT community can be polarizing. Although roughly 54 percent of U.S. Christians across denominations think homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to a 2014 survey conducted by Pew Research Center, many churches don’t fall into this category. “In my view, we’re letting the extremes on both sides define this debate and I think what we’re losing is the opportunity to try to find common ground,” said Frank Ravitch, a professor of law at Michigan State University, and author of “Freedom’s Edge: Religious Freedom, Sexual Freedom, and the Future of America.” According to Ravitch, religious entities like churches reserve the right to discriminate based on sexual identity, but not all types of discrimination should be conflated.

Rental housing in East Lansing serving unique market

East Lansing has a unique set of needs to meet when it comes to rental housing. The city provides and regulates rental housing units that accommodate a diverse renter base ranging from local college students to long-term residents. While the level of renter-occupied housing units in adjacent cities like Lansing and Mason falls below 50 percent, rental housing comprises 66.5 percent of the total housing units in East Lansing, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. “When you look at East Lansing and compare it to other cities, even other cities in our region, the proximity to the university really plays a major role in what type of housing can be developed here and what type of housing can be successful here in terms of the underlying economics,” said Thomas Fehrenbach, community and economic development administrator for East Lansing. Fehrenbach said that analyzing the local rental market requires taking into account the circumstances that are specific to East Lansing.

Volunteer programs seek to supplement local park maintenance

Kacie Kefgen brings her kids to Harrison Meadows Neighborhood Park almost every day and runs nearby trails three times a week. Kefgen, who lives in a neighborhood near Northern Tier Trail, is one of many East Lansing residents who regularly take advantage of park and recreation sites in East Lansing. “We can see how many people use the trail from our house,” said Kefgen. “Even in the cold part of the winter, especially on the weekends, you will see people running and walking their dogs.” While many residents enjoy the local parks and trail systems, maintenance of these areas is a shared responsibility. According to Tim McCaffrey, director of the East Lansing Department of Parks, Recreation & Arts, the majority of park maintenance is the responsibility of the city organization, but volunteer work plays an important role.

Good-bye, 50/50 rule? Shift in East Lansing alcohol policy expected

A local alcohol policy known as the 50/50 ordinance could be repealed as early as this spring, according to East Lansing Mayor Mark Meadows. The 50/50 ordinance is one of several alcohol policies that attempts to balance alcohol business practices in East Lansing. The nearly 35-year-old ordinance requires most local restaurants and bars to cap alcohol revenue at 50 percent of total sales and provide quarterly reports to assure compliance. “I remember when we first discussed it back in the mid ’80s, late ’80s, none of us were happy about it,” said Joe Bell, owner of The Peanut Barrel, a local restaurant and bar on Grand River Avenue. The Peanut Barrel is one of four restaurants currently exempt from the ordinance due to its grandfathered status.

Fine-dining restaurants in East Lansing seek to capture diverse customer base

Restaurants in downtown East Lansing near Grand River Avenue rely on a fluctuating customer base ranging from local residents and students to out-of-town visitors. Fine-dining options in the area are consolidating élite and casual elements in order to capture a larger customer demographic. Heather Pope, a community development analyst with the City of East Lansing, listed Bistro 43 and Black Cat Bistro as two fine-dining locations in downtown East Lansing that offer higher price points. According to Pope, many different factors go into whether a fine-dining restaurant settles and succeeds in a city. “Maybe the community would love to have more fine dining in the downtown,” said Pope.

Did MSU’s Nassar scandal tarnish East Lansing’s reputation?

As Michigan State University continues to confront the effects of the Larry Nassar scandal, the surrounding community weighs in on whether the fallout could damage East Lansing’s reputation. Michigan State University is experiencing faculty resignations, disciplinary action, and ongoing investigation in the wake of its association with a sexual abuse scandal involving over 250 victim reports nationally. For East Lansing, the home city of MSU, collateral damage is still being assessed. “Obviously, people are thinking about the issue,” said Kathy Schaefer, a partner with Communications and Research, Inc., a public relations firm in East Lansing. “It’s in their minds.