East Lansing Communities Concerned Over Housing Ordinance

Tucked just behind the heart of Michigan State University's campus, you'll find more than a dozen "overlay districts," places where new renters need not apply.

"We were very concerned about the rental situation when we bought, and we made sure that we were in an overlay district when we bought the house," Jim Artabasy said, who used to work at MSU.

With enough signatures, a neighborhood can become an overlay district and create rental restrictions, but in an attempt to help people unable to sell homes, the Housing Commission proposed Ordinance 1288.

It would make an exemption to East Lansing's rental license requirement on a temporary basis. The ordinance would allow people to rent out an unsold home without a rental license for up to two years, if they're approved through an application process.

"This ordinance was intended to apply citywide because vacant properties and distressed properties are not limited to non-overlay districts," East Lansing Housing Commission Chair Leo Sell said.

The Housing Commission hopes the ordinance would also address the lack of housing for families and young professionals. Members hoped it would make it easier for those people to find a home in East Lansing when they move for school or work.

The Housing Commission might be the only ones who support the proposal though. During a city council public hearing earlier this month, nearly 20 people spoke out against it, and Thursday's Housing Commission meeting was more of the same. As the liaison, Mayor Pro Tem Nathan Triplett recommended it be withdrawn from consideration.

"The housing commission has identified some challenges that our community faces, but the solution that they've proposed just isn't the right fit for East Lansing," Triplett said. "It's time that we move past it."

Neighborhood associations and homeowners in overlay districts said it undermines their work to get the rental restrictions in the first place and could drag down property values.

"Students, who are the primary renters in the area, are of an age where they'll do things that older people probably won't," Artabasy said.

That negative image of rentals is common, according to Sell, but they're not always accurate. Sell said he had good intentions with the ordinance.

"I don't think those were well understood, and that's unfortunate," Sell said.

After more than an hour of public comment s, the commission put the ordinance's future to a vote. The commission voted 3-1 to ask City Council to withdraw consideration of the ordinance. Originally the Housing Commission was unanimously in favor of the proposal, but they didn't feel comfortable moving forward, given the community's response.

The Housing Commission said it's been working on these issues for more than a year, and they'll go back to the drawing board to find a solution that can work.

Ordinance 1288 will likely be defeated at the Feb. 19 City Council meeting.

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