The developer operating a downtown East Lansing apartment complex is asking the city to lift an age restriction on tenants.
East Lansing doesn’t want housing in the city to be too heavily devoted to Michigan State University’s student population. To achieve the desired diversity, some developments are restricted to owner occupied condos, or housing for low and moderate-income renters.
At Newman Lofts, which opened last October, Harbor Bay Real Estate had agreed on a third way to address the city’s housing diversity requirement: renting only to those aged 55 and older.
In an online press conference Thursday, the developer said only 25 units are occupied while 66 remain vacant. Harbor Bay CEO Mark Bell blames the age restriction, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, for badly hurting business at Newman Lofts. He says he’s turning away younger would-be tenants, stating that "The city’s age-based housing restriction has resulted in over 70 interested tenants only to be denied housing solely based on their age.”
Harbor Bay is threatening legal action against East Lansing if the age restriction isn’t lifted.
Bell goes on to say that the City Center mixed use development includes another apartment complex facing Grand River Avenue. There, he says, there are no age restrictions, and the 273 residential units are open for anyone to rent. That complex, he says, is at 98% occupancy. Newman Lofts is on the opposite side of that complex, facing Albert Street.
East Lansing Mayor Aaron Stephens says he is open to talking about the age restriction, but would have preferred an open discussion “at the conference table” rather than by press conference or legal action. “I don’t want it to look like putting these 66 or so apartments that they have said were vacant into market rate or whatever they’re asking for is going to suddenly save all of these businesses that are struggling," Stephens explains, "because the truth is that they’re struggling for reasons that they can’t control and that are a lot bigger than just one apartment complex.”
Before agreeing to lift the age restriction, Stephens says he would want to ask if Harbor Bay has considered alternatives like lowering rents. A one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,445, while a two-bedroom space with a den costs close to $3,000 a month.