When they finally got to the vote on the newest proposal for the seven-acre central area of Falcon Pointe – a housing development on the city’s north side that didn’t turn out as originally planned – East Lansing’s Planning Commission voted 4-0 to recommend the proposal to City Council. The latest proposal, to construct four three-unit rental dwellings fits East Lansing’s zoning law, and the commission is supposed to adhere closely to that question in their deliberations.
But the vote to recommend the proposal didn’t come without planning commissioners hearing from and responding sympathetically to present residents of the community about their fears of losing their homes. In fact, as ELi details below, the commission slowed down the process as they pushed the developers to show up and speak to the housing insecurity concern.
The pushing seems to have helped the residents to some extent: they have one-year contracts where before they had none. Now, the development proposal is coming to City Council for a final decision tonight, Tuesday, April 18. It’s a situation previous councils have struggled with in the past.
Falcon Pointe homeowners, including many seniors, find themselves in a high-risk situation.
As ELi reported back in 2015, Falcon Pointe was originally designed to be a manufactured housing development. The idea was the developers would build custom homes on foundations constructed on land that the developers would continue to own. The homeowners would forever rent the land from the developers.
But only a few people bought into the project and the original developer essentially abandoned it. New investors bought the land, leaving the homeowners – many of whom are seniors on fixed-incomes – without operable leases.
The matter came to Council in 2015 because the new landowners, FP Investors, wanted to build 120 one-story rental units on the land near the existing homes. Then-City Attorney Tom Yeadon explained there was little Council could do to force the developers to help the owners. Council approved the construction of the new rental units, expressing deep concern for the homeowners. The units were built.
In 2021, apparently unaware of the long-standing troubles, Council approved the construction of more rental housing at Falcon Pointe. But FP Investors didn’t build the project before that approval expired. Now, the developers are back seeking approval to construct four three-unit rental dwellings.
The Planning Commission’s Feb. 8, 2023, public hearing on the matter drew Falcon Pointe residents worried about their futures.
Several residents and former residents testified about their experiences dealing with FP Investors. Dean Matsudo, owner of a manufactured unit that sits on land he leases from Falcon Pointe, submitted a letter with his testimony.
“I have grave concerns over the trustworthiness of FP Investors, LLC, and their intent to construct new housing at Falcon Pointe,” Matsudo wrote. “I feel, should FP Investors, LLC, be approved for a site plan change, this may negatively impact and jeopardize the current residents of Falcon Pointe. FP Investors, LLC has not demonstrated any care or concerns of the current residents and their dwellings. Many are senior citizens who have large financial investments into their homes and would suffer mental and financial distress.”
The majority of Falcon Pointe residents who spoke out about their treatment by the management company are in the same situation as Matsudo: owners of their physical dwelling, yet renting or leasing the land it sits on.
Matsudo recounted that, a year earlier, he and other residents of manufactured homes received a letter threatening to evict them from the land in March 2023. This means they would have to either abandon their homes or move the structures to new locations – an expensive proposition.
He also noted none of the residents had land leases despite frequent attempts by the residents who had sought out written agreements that offered more security than month-to-month conditional payments would allow.
“These are homes of senior citizens who have invested their time, energy, and money,” Matsudo wrote. “They cannot be expected to simply vacate or abandon their home and their memories!”
He encouraged the planning commission “to consider the magnitude of this application and make a decision that would be in the best interest of the senior citizens in the East Lansing community.” He said he wanted to see the original site plan – for a community of manufactured homes – carried out.
Also appearing at that February meeting was Mary Ann Romel who, along with her husband, Eugene, moved into a manufactured home in the Falcon Pointe development in 2005. ELi spoke with the Romels after the Feb. 8 hearing.
“We had sold our house here in DeWitt,” Mary Ann Romel said, “and were looking for a less expensive place. That neighborhood was a growing community and we would be able to get in at the beginning. It was also a 55 [year old] plus community. They had garages and little sections of lawn and we met some of the neighbors and that was very enticing to us.”
The Romels made the decision to purchase one of the Falcon Pointe properties.
“We ended up planting 60 rose bushes around the home we bought,” Mary Ann said. “And then they started to build new apartment buildings and we were worried they would try to get rid of us. But the people coming in were nice and quiet. We always felt safe.
“We had a [lease] agreement when we first moved in. That was the only lease we ever got. When we got the notice in March of last year that we had to evacuate the house in March of this year, we were concerned about having to move again, especially if we would have to do it in the winter.”
With the eviction notice looming, the Romels found an apartment in DeWitt and were considering selling their modular home to a friend who had intentions of moving the building north to Houghton Lake. When that fell through, they considered renting it out. However, they were soon informed they would not be allowed to sublease the property.
“We wanted $40,000 for the home and told the management company they could just buy us out,” she said. “But they started dickering and dealing with us….We’re in our 70s and 80s and don’t want to be dealing with this any longer.”
Salomón Rodezno also appeared at the February meeting, and ELi interviewed him about his experiences in the weeks following. He and his partner have been renting one of the manufactured homes (like a traditional rental tenant) from FP Investors while Rodezno has been enrolled in a doctoral program at Michigan State University.
“Part of the appeal of living here was knowing that my program would last six years and we wouldn’t have to move again while we were here,” he said. “So for us to get the eviction notice was a surprise. Plus, we didn’t have a lease at that time. It was worrying.”
The management company withdrew the eviction notice for residents in October 2022, but the residents were still not offered any leases or promises that their residencies were secure.
“In the process of all this,” Rodezno said, “we learned that this wasn’t the first time [the developers] had done something like this to the residents here. It was very scary, but we’re young. We knew that we’d be able to find something real fast. But a lot of our neighbors are in their late 80s, some in their early 90s. So, we worried about them because it would be hard for them to move. This is it for them. Many of them are not planning to move. I know a lot of them were worried about that.”
Rodezno reflected on a neighbor who moved immediately after receiving the March 2022 letter of eviction, moving with their young children in the middle of the school year.
After the February meeting, ELi reached out to Brad Friedman of FP Investors to inquire about their plans for their residents.
“We’ve been in talks with them and we’re developing a one- to two-year contract so at least they can lay to rest some of the anxiety,” he said. “We are no longer moving forward with removing any of the residents.”
The City Planning Commission required the developers to show up and speak to the housing insecurity issue.
The commission had originally expected to take action on the recommendation on March 8. But when the developers sent only a civil engineer who could not answer questions about the concerns, the commission decided to put off action and to ask the developers to come and talk with them.
That happened on March 22. There, Jeff Friedle of FP Investors told the commission the residents have now been given year-long leases, and one of the properties (the home of the Romels) has been bought by the developers.
At that meeting, the planning commission finally voted on whether to recommend the proposal to the East Lansing City Council. By law, the commission could only take into account the narrow question of whether the application for the new structures fit the city’s zoning. However, commissioners could not shake the testimony they heard from residents earlier in the year.
“I understand our purview here as a planning commission,” Commissioner Ed Wagner said, “but it’s hard for me to also support a business that makes East Lansing residents housing insecure. It seems like they had a lot of complaints and a lot of issues that weren’t addressed until they came here and made everything public. I can’t imagine getting an eviction notice stuck on my door. So, what happens after a year?”
Friedle responded that testimony at the Feb. 8 meeting helped the management company better understand the concerns of the residents, many of their advanced ages, and ownership records. He said the company took the feedback and “delivered them year-long leases” to “put them to ease.” (Residents have said they’ve conveyed their situations and wishes clearly before.)
At the March 22 meeting, all planning commissioners present voted yes with the exception of Wagner, who chose to abstain.
With the city council vote coming this week, ELi reached out to the residents to get updates.
Rodezno says he and his partner received the lease they wanted, giving them 12 months’ ease of mind. They’ve also seen a renewed commitment to the upkeep of their home.
“We got a new dryer,” he said, “and we might be getting a new porch, as well. There were people out measuring the other day.”
The Romels, however, were less satisfied with the deal they got from Falcon Pointe.
“We were offered $25,000” for the purchase of their house, Mary Ann Romel said. “They would have just kept holding out and might not have given us anything at all. It felt like a slap in the face. But we need to go on with our lives and live the time we’ve got left.”
So, they sold.
Council’s meeting will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, at the Hannah Community Center. The agenda can be found here. Public comment is allowed near the start of the meeting during the period designated for it.
Update: Find out what happened at Council in this article.