Delays in East Lansing affordable housing plan raise concerns

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The Abbot, the Hub and Landmark on Grand River are three notorious luxury-student apartments in downtown East Lansing. Yet, the style of living is not what sparks controversy; it’s the cost.

Adrianna Pipe is a Michigan State senior living off-campus in a house with her friends. She is among many students who opted out of the nearby apartments due to the unattainable prices.

“To get reasonably priced housing in East Lansing is a huge struggle. You have to sign and find good options pretty early in the year. Otherwise, you have to concede on price, location or quality,” Pipe said. “I have friends that live in houses that have had cockroaches, friends that haven’t been able to pay rent without working 30+ hours a week on top of school, and friends that have to commute from home.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in East Lansing, the median household income from 2017-2021 is $41,177, with per capita income being $25,802, meaning 35.5% of people fall below the poverty line. 

In 2018, the City Council approved a rezoning plan to bring low-income family housing to the downtown area. The proposed construction site, known as Building C, 333 Valley Court Drive, would be “a five-story, 104-unit building with 75 affordable units.”

“The conditional rezoning required the developer to commence construction of Building C within 54 months from the effective date of the rezoning approval from Council, which was October 3, 2018, which means the rezoning [expired] April 3, 2023,” the City of East Lansing shared in its agenda report for March 21.

On March 1, Attorney David E. Pierson, representing the property owners, Convexity, requested the mayor and City Council to extend the project deadline. In the letter, Pierson explained the delay was due to a new purchase agreement with a developer group in Okemos, PK.

The group PK specializes in low-to-moderate income housing. Pierson said their specialization and successful record with affordable housing projects is the reason behind the agreement.

In 2018, the Park District development proposal was approved, initiating the construction for The Graduate Hotel (Building D), the Abbot (Building A), and Building C. Today, Building A and D are fully functioning, while the Building C lot remains vacant.

Jaden Hawkins

Existing Structures (Building A and D) and Proposed Construction Site for Building C– buildings highlighted with a blue icon.

Given the delays, Councilwoman Dana Watson is questioning the city’s and developers’ urgency for the project.

“I’m curious about the passion for this Building C as opposed to the Building A and the Building [D]. It seems like the deadline of April 3 that came from 2018 is driving the ask to change this when we knew this was coming this whole time,” Watson said. “I want to see it happen, but I think it seems like there’s a lot of reasons for delaying this particular building.”

The city attorney, Anthony Chubb, said that due to the change in development agreements, a new one had to be made. And, because the city is still negotiating to approve the transition to work with PK, the “timing [was] impractical.” 

Mayor Ron Bacon added that working with organizations like PK specializing in affordable low-income housing has created more urgency to get the job done.  

On March 21, the city approved the new extension plan with a 4-1 vote. The extension allows construction to begin within 24 months after the approval and a 48-month deadline for completion.

“No area should only be affordable for a certain group of folks that make a certain amount of money unless everybody that lives in that community gets paid liveable wages to live in that community, and that’s not what’s happening,” Watson said. “We have baristas. We have people that work at Target. We have people that work at non-profits. Sometimes, they are driving the furthest to get here, and that’s not how it should be. We all create this great space together.” 

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