Housing in equality in a college town

Feature center city district project

Author: Grant Grose

When building a city we need to have an overall sense of what it is that we want the overall culture of the space to be when it's finished, this helps the city hold its identity while large developers come in and begin renovating. Developers look at MSU and see college students with money and a chance to build something new and make a buck. MSU I have never viewed to be a flashy school that needs a big city around it, what the city of East Lansing needs is a vibrant square and innovative shops that will draw the students from the campus and out into the city.

With the development of Skyvue we have seen MSU and the Greater Lansing Area begin a trend towards a more flashy and economically thriving look for the city. Skyvue was the first tipping point with this movement which will eventually lead to the construction of similar or more expensive housing in downtown East Lansing in the Grand River/Abbott area. The problem I see arising is when everything is developed, what keeps Skyvue filled? With Skyvue being located closer to Frandor than campus you have to wonder why so many people were attracted to living there, its because it was new, nice and flashy. Once more housing like Skyvue is added closer towards campus Skyvue's demographic would need to change drastically from their high rent prices and far location. Their main market right now is students but with its location and rent prices this could quickly be substituted away in the next few years. This could have been avoided this by keeping Skyvue a simpler project, instead of making it a luxury new apartment complex they could have had more long term success and easier market transition by making it into affordable housing and taken some of the luxury and amenity needs. By keeping MSU and East Lansing area a simpler yet developed center you keep much of the feel and the simplicity that many alumni love and come back to, if the Abbott area becomes giant buildings like Skyvue you could see a large disconnect from the older graduates and a shift of many students to farther away and more affordable housing.

With Millenials on the trend of renting homes instead of buying this leaves the question of how do we keep people around once they graduate? Many students, if they chose to stay in East Lansing after graduation, have no connection to downtown or the school anymore. Graduates move away from the center of town and try to find affordable housing deeper in Lansing or further up Abbott, this creates a large segregation between the students of the city and the people who choose to call it home. With more affordable housing closer to downtown instead of these large apartment complexes they could see a much more revitalized city life and an economic increase by getting many of these recent graduates to return and live closer to their city square.

This concept of segregating higher income earners from lower income earners with developments such as Skyvue and housing such as Hopcat has systematically led to much of the campus wanting to escape and find the cheapest apartments on the outskirts of the city. This systematic segregation isn't as profitable and as sustainable and the original developers were to believe according to the case study. "Although concerns were raised about whether higher income residents would want to live alongside households with lower incomes, this does not appear to be a major problem (Myerson, 2003). Over the years, mixed-income housing has become an attractive development approach for for-profit, as well as nonprofit, affordable housing developers (Bratt 11)." Mixed-income housing or cheaper complexes rather than luxury mega complexes like Skyvue would cause a cultural mix of students, graduates and people from all around the greater Lansing area. The city of East Lansing could see a larger socioeconomic impact rather than an increase in activity surrounding the one apartment complex.

Affordable housing is something that can shape a city and be the pivotal point in its culture. With revitalizing a city and renovating it's space it's important to remember to build it to grow the city and its culture not just build to make to most money. Mixed-income housing could go a long way to connecting MSU with the surrounding area and close off this large right between the city but is only just a dream unless developers look for cheaper alternatives to these luxury complexes such as Skyvue.

An example of this principle at work: Affordable rental housing in a for profit sector