By Rachel Beard
Lansing Township News Staff Reporter
According to the Lansing Charter Township 2009 Master Plan, there are a significant number of vacant homes in Lansing Township.
Although vacancies were 1.30 percent of total homeowner housing stock in Lansing Township in 2000, Urbandale, a neighborhood south of Kalamazoo Street, had a vacancy rate of 10 percent that year, according to the Lansing Township Master Plan.
That’s nearly 10 times the township average, and that was well before the Great Recession of 2008 which sent foreclosure rates skyrocketing across the country.
It only takes a quick drive around the township to notice that quite a few homes have been abandoned.
So why are there so many vacant homes in Lansing Township? Township Deputy Supervisor DeeAnn Overton says it’s a multifaceted problem.
“Part of the reason [for vacancies] may be because of foreclosure,” Overton said. “Part of the reason could be we’ve enacted a rental ordinance a year and a half ago, and we’re seeing that some of the property owners that had been rentals, they’re deciding that they don’t want to have it be rentals because of the inspections and what’s found during those inspections. Some of them are being sold.”
Code Compliance Officer Daniel Richards says the rental ordinance means higher standards for rental properties, which may have led to these properties’ abandonment.
“We operate under the International Property Maintenance Code of 2012, and, basically, that is the code put forth by the International Code Council, and it gives minimum requirements for all properties,” Richards said. “But here in the township, we make sure that in addition to all the properties, specifically the rental properties, environmental inspections are conducted following the IPMC 2012.”
Overton says the number of vacant homes in Lansing Township has decreased significantly since the housing market crash in 2008.
“This is my file of foreclosures,” Overton said. “I have three of them in here. Before, I would have maybe 15, 20 at a time. I mean, we still have a couple of them out there that probably need to be turned around, but, yeah, we had quite a few of them in 2008, 2009, and 2010 that were foreclosed and just — I mean, constantly. When we’d search the deeds from the Register of Deeds office, now, it’s surprising if I find one. But five years ago, it wasn’t so surprising to find a foreclosure.”
Turnaround rates for abandoned homes are also steadily improving in Lansing Township.
“Typically, because things are getting better than what they were around 2008, 2009, or 2010, [mortgage companies] can get [foreclosed homes] listed and sold pretty rapidly,” Overton said. “A few years ago, we weren’t seeing that rapid turnover. I mean, sometimes, we’d have a closed home that sat, abandoned, maybe for a year or so before they’d even get a Realtor involved. But now, it’s pretty rapid.”
Some parts of Lansing Township were hit not only by the housing market crash, but also by the closing of the General Motors plant in the township, which has meant that they’ve been slower to recover than other parts of Lansing Township.
“When General Motors left, it dealt Lansing Township a huge blow, because that was the majority of our populace, and now, with the economy bouncing back and people finding jobs, they’re moving back in the area, and I think that that has improved with the selling of homes and the transferring of homes,” Richards said.
Vacant homes may not be as much of a problem as they were back in 2008, but vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed homes are still having an impact on the value of surrounding homes.
“It was quite noticeable in one our subdivisions, where the values of the homes used to be 100 to 130,000,” Overton said. “Foreclosures were selling between 50 and [$60,000], and that did drop the rest of the neighborhood for a little bit, but it is recovering and it’s coming back, so the values are about where they should be.”
Overton says keeping track of vacant homes in Lansing Township is a group effort. The parks maintenance staff and Wellside Water Department staff members keep an eye out for homes that look suspicious and report them to the Lansing Township Office of Code Compliance.
“If they see something out of the ordinary, they’ll let Mr. Richards know so that he can kind of go after them from the code side, giving them violations that, ‘hey, you’ve got junk dumped on your property’ or ‘hey, there’s long grass that needs to be addressed’, so it does become a code compliance issue,” Overton said. “But as I said, Mr. Richards is very diligent and very tenacious at getting that taken care of.”
But there’s only so much that the township can do to take care of these vacant properties. Although they can intervene in some situations, most of it is in the hands of the property owners.
“As far as the township standpoint, we keep an eye on the property and make sure that even though it is abandoned, it still confides with the code of ordinances,” Richards said. “We try to keep whoever the property owner is, even though the property may be vacant and may be in a less than decent state, we keep up with the property owners to make sure they keep the property up.”