Monday, April 3, 2023

Unsafe housing in Lansing: Red tags

Red tagged housing has made the news several times recently, from people's homes burning down, to the City of Lansing suing a property owner who moved his tenants from a red-tagged property into a pink tagged building that he owned. Council member Ryan Kost has been working on reforms to how red tagging is handled. Additionally, the head of code enforcement resigned abruptly last week.

The City Council is planning to hold special sessions to deal with this housing crisis. (Update: this meeting is available online)

So, where are the areas of Lansing that have been red tagged? Documents provided by Ryan Kost of City Council indicate that there are over 700 red tags currently being monitored, for 655 buildings. The vast majority (~460) of these red tags are by people who own only one single building. It's also true that the vast majority of rental homes inspected by the city pass safety tests.

Last year, the staff of the City Pulse wondered if the red tags were mostly the results of a few bad actors. There are a few repeat offenders. Around a dozen property owners have multiple properties, many of which are red tagged. Some of these have made the news recently. The City of Lansing's Lansing's code enforcement department has already fined these property owners, in some cases thousands of dollars.

For example, according to publicly available data, each of the top three owners of red tagged properties individually own at least 15 properties each, they have at least 5 red tagged properties, and their fines are also each over $9,000.

The neighborhoods with the highest rates of red tagging per building (around 3% red tagged/building) are Willoughby, Old Town/Stadium District, Holmes/Potter-Walsh, Old Forest, and North Town. 

The neighborhoods that with the lowest rates of red tagging per building (less than half a percent of buildings have red tags) are Groesbeck, Moores River Drive, River Forest, Eastern High School, Lady Hill/Creston, North Colonial Village, Benjamin Davis, Scott Woods/Sycamore Park, Sagamore Hills (love that name), and Lewton-Rich.

Below is a map of locations of red tagged buildings. A red tag might mean "tagged Unsafe" or "NEAT unsafe" (properties that have been tagged unsafe for 90 days or more can be referred to the Neighborhood Enforcement Action Team). The darker red means more red tags in a bin; key is in the upper right. Red tags on this map are only safety related: they do not include enforcements about trash, grass, failure to register, construction without a permit, etc. 

Lansingography would like to thank Ryan Kost for providing this data.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Single- vs Multifamily Housing: Lansing Housing Rules

Did you catch Joan Nelson's piece in the City Pulse about "granny flats"? 

The article describes Lansing's "demographic mismatch", that is, our large amount of land dedicated to detached single family housing. As it turns out, single-family zoning covers 83% of Lansing’s residential districts (and 90% of our residential land!) while only 40% of households consist of single families, i.e., parents and their children under 18 years of age.

A detached house is probably what you'd think of as a typical "suburban" home, that is, something that is freestanding (ie, not a duplex), has a yard on a lot of at least 4,000 sqft, and historically houses one family. However, that doesn't really describe most of Lansing; many of us live here temporarily due to jobs or school or because we want to go somewhere else eventually. Others do not want the responsibility of a home yet, or maybe ever. Some live alone and so might purchase a single family home to share with a roommate or to cover all the bill themselves.

Detached family housing zoning restrictions also have their roots in the racist practices used to prevent people of color from owning in all white neighborhoods. 

The Missing Middle

There are a variety of types of multifamily housing types that can be built in theory; much ink has been spilled in recent years about the "missing middle": this is the medium density housing that exists between a single family house and a large apartment building like Fountain Place or the Motor Wheel Lofts.

This multifamily housing could be a condo, duplex, a few cottages with a shared courtyard, a rowhouse, or another type of multiplex. Medium density zones can also have low density housing (a single family home) as well, but the reverse is not true (you cannot build a rowhouse on land zoned for low density, for example.)

Lansing's Zoning/Form Based Code was decided in 2022 (updated from an older zoning plan which has fewer multifamily housing zones) and is publicly available online. Here's where we stand in terms of housing. You can see there are some red areas designated as "downtown" districts, which are typically encouraged to be mixed use and can consist of housing (but also commercial). The blue areas are designated as single or multifamily of various types. The yellow areas are single family detached only.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Lansing Area Free Stands: February 2023

Neighbors helping neighbors

Little free stands: no questions asked groceries and items donated by our neighbors. Here's a map of some of them by size and capacity. Some of the free stands are large cabinets, and some of them even have refrigeration.

If you need something, grab it. If you have extra, leave it.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Where Are The Pączki in Lansing?

Ah, pączki day (aka Fat Tuesday) has come and gone, but if you're planning for next year, here is some help. Lansing has a large number of locations where you can acquire these tasty treats. Major props to Quality Dairy for not only preparing a passable pączek but also owning the landscape! I'm a fan of their raspberry paczki. Yum!

Our family makes 'em but if you gotta get 'em from the store, where do you go? Here are some suggestions! Smacznego! (Bon appetit!)

Also fun fact: almost everyone in Lansing lives within a mile of a place that'll sell you the pastry. Let's see if we can do better next year!

Lansing's Parks By The Numbers: Size

Lansing has a fair few parks, nature reserves and open green space.

Here is poster generated from OpenStreetMap data that pulls all parks, removes their road labels, then orders by size. How many can you list? How far down the list can you get? Hint: not all of these "belong" to the City, but all of them at least touch the city. For example, there might be a county park in here and some natural areas managed by MSU.

Something I learned doing this is that we have a lot of "pocket" parks; sometimes when a house is demolished, the city will put up some playground equipment and a garden, (Prospect is a great example of this)


Here are the top 40:

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Rent is Going Up: Southern Michigan Edition

To the surprise of absolutely nobody, rent increases. Population is increasing, people need a place to stay, and in most areas of the United States, housing and density has not matched the rate of population growth. Many locations already had more demand for housing stock than existed in supply. Simple supply and demand can explain some of the rent increases. When there is great demand for something, suppliers can leverage that demand into higher prices, especially in the case of something that is a need, like housing. It's hard to walk away from a price if you can't find housing somewhere else.

However, in the last decade, rents have not increased evenly. Some areas have more housing stock thus mitigating demand; some places are more or less popular than others.

Lansing's metropolitan area (Lansing, East Lansing, Dewitt, Holt) has seen a 57% raise in rents from June 2015 to December 2022. That is above average in Michigan, but it's not even the place with the fastest growing rents: Grand Rapids and Detroit have higher rents and rents that are increasing more rapidly. 

Zillow, the real estate website, monitors the rent that appears in its rental database, but it also weights it based on the types of rental properties in the US Census. Then it takes a three-month rolling average, and creates an index based on the 40th to 60th percentile rents, to exclude very high or very low outliers. (It's a bit complicated, you can read the methodology here.)

Currently, Zillow estimated that the mean rent in Greater Lansing is around $1,100. Here is a quick visualization of what that rent curves look like across Southern Michigan:

map of spark lines indicating rent growth across the midwest. detroit rents have risen steeply, lansing is slightly less steep

Michigan Votes vs Population

 Where people live isn't equally distributed across the state (duh!). When displaying election results (or other data), a common strategy is to color areas by how the inhabitants voted. This communicates as much information as it can elide. Here are a few different maps that all correctly display the results of the 2022 governor's election, but tell a very different story. Here's to being a red/blue/purple state!

map showing red vs blue party wins; the left shows it by county and the right by population.

animated map of michigan changing from a population map to a county map