After threatening legal action against the city of East Lansing in a press conference a few weeks ago, Harbor Bay Real Estate, who leases units in Newman Lofts in downtown East Lansing, could be in legal trouble following a City Council meeting on Tuesday evening.
During the meeting, Mary Fielding, an original tenant of Newman Lofts, notified the council members that Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors may seemingly be in violation of an agreement with the city which restricts Newman Lofts from leasing the apartments to residents who do not fall under the category of ages 55 and above.
"I would like to point out that Harbor Bay is already renting apartments in Newman Lofts to those who are under 55," Fielding said.
Mayor Aaron Stephens, who seemed surprised by the statement said that it was news to him. Stephens then asked the City Manager George Lahanas to follow up with the caller.
To avoid an excessively heavy student population in downtown housing, the real estate management was required to dedicate a percentage of the project to age-restricted housing, affordable condominiums or low- to middle-income housing. Restrictions in place at Newman Lofts were tied to its inception as a project to the community.
Harbor Bay Real Estate agreed to these restrictions in 2017, prior to the building’s development, according to East Lansing Planning, Building and Development Director Tom Fehrenbach. Recently though, Harbor Bay has been attempting to have the age-restriction policy lifted up for the building due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is unclear if the four leases that don't have residents over age 55 on them violate any laws or agreements that Newman Lofts developers had with the city. Lahanas confirmed in an email that City Attorney Tom Yeadon was looking into the matter to determine if laws or terms of the agreement had been violated.
During the meeting, Council Member Lisa Babcock asked Harbor Bay CEO Mark Bell and Vice President of Governmental Affairs and Public Relations Steve Willobee how many of the apartments were rented out to people under the ages 55.
"Four apartments, no one of age 55 or older," Willobee said.
Bell defended the actions of Harbor Bay to the council.
"This is not a disingenuous attempt, a bait-and-switch. This is the rules by which we're playing by," he said during the Tuesday meeting.
"I think they made a commitment to the city," Stephens said. "I think they made a commitment to the residents. I wasn't on council when this deal was made, so I can't really speak to the decision-making process then. But I can speak to what I've heard now ... from every resident that's reached out to me that lives in this facility — and most people in the community — is that they would like to see this deal honored. I'm a representative of the people."
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