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Harbor Bay Real Estate threaten legal action against East Lansing for Newman Lofts' age-restriction policy

September 2, 2020
<p>Landmark Apartments and Newman Lofts as seen from M.A.C. Avenue, photographed on Aug. 12, 2019. </p>

Landmark Apartments and Newman Lofts as seen from M.A.C. Avenue, photographed on Aug. 12, 2019.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisor CEO, Mark Bell, spoke out against the city of East Lansing in a virtual press conference last Thursday, for its decision to uphold age restrictions on the newly-constructed Newman Lofts building.

In the press conference on Aug. 27, Harbor Bay Real Estate stated that if a mutually beneficial agreement is not reached, they are prepared to resort to legal action against the city. Newman Lofts is restricted from leasing the apartments to residents who do not fall under the category of ages 55 and above.

“The intent of it is to help diversify the living options in downtown East Lansing and essentially bolster the economy by creating opportunities for people of all walks of life, to come here and bring the demand they have for products and services,” Director Tom Fehrenbach of East Lansing's Planning, Building and Development said.

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. Harbor Bay Real Estate agreed to these restrictions in 2017, prior to the building’s development, Fehrenbach said.

"We've always felt that the 55 plus option could work," Vice President of Governmental Affairs and Public Relations Steve Willobee said. "We believe that because people were interested in coming to (the) football games – this being their kind of their second home — so instead of having a cottage in the north, they'd have an apartment in East Lansing. They live the rest of (the) year somewhere else or they would just call this home."

However, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harbor Bay now sees this restriction as unwise, calling it “reckless and irresponsible” during the press conference.

“If you look at these statistics from a health vantage point, the folks that are some of the most sensitive to this (are) the same people that we're required to be recruiting to come live in Newman Lofts in the middle of the pandemic,” Willobee said. 

Willobee also explained that the age restrictions may actually hurt economic diversity in East Lansing. As the 55 plus crowd passes up on housing, younger age groups are eager to move in.

"We've turned away a lot of people that are under the age of 55, but would have been a way in key folks to diversify downtown East Lansing," he said.

While Newman Lofts struggles to find tenants from the older population, their retail tenants are looking for rent relief. Newman Lofts is a host of mutiple businesses including Target, Jolly Pumpkin, and Barrio. With the current restrictions in place, Newman Lofts may struggle to provide this relief.

“If we can't find a way to lease this up, there's a ripple effect to it, and it's pretty dire,” Willobee said.

However, Fehrenbach does not see these restrictions being lifted, as they are tied to the inception of the Newman Lofts project.

“I think it's highly unlikely that the council would have agreed to the development agreement if it didn't include the 55 and over age restriction ... that's permitted under both state and federal law,” Fehrenbach said.

Fehrenbach is also confident that older residents would be safe in the city of East Lansing. (5:25)

"I think we're doing our best to make sure that East Lansing is as safe as possible for all of the people that live and visit here,” Fehrenbach said. “We're doing everything we can to follow the CDC's guiding principles, and essentially focus on public safety right now as a way to increase our economic development. That's why we've done support programs for businesses.”

In April, East Lansing allocated $250,000 for their business relief program.

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