Your ELi: The Context of Today’s Report on EHOP

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Gary Caldwell for ELi

City Hall on a snowy day.

Today we bring a report on the City of East Lansing’s Employee Homeownership Program (EHOP). This Your ELi column provides a look at the context of this reporting.

The City’s Freedom of Information Act response on this topic provided names of beneficiaries and those interested in benefiting next, but because we were interested chiefly in how the program has been functioning in practice, we made the editorial decision to name only the City staff member who both manages and benefited from EHOP, an issue that seems relevant to understanding how the program has played out.

While the program’s budget is pretty small compared to many initiatives the City undertakes, the ELi reporting team found it of interest because it intersects with a number of other issues on which we are reporting.

At the most obvious level, it gives readers a look into how budgetary decisions are being made  by City Council during economically uncertain times and as this Council is seeking to enact reforms in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion – a complex nexus of decision-making for a relatively inexperienced Council.

EHOP is a clear example of the journalistic dictum to “follow the money,” something we have been trying to do with many areas of the City’s revenue and expenses – like the question of what the BWL franchise fees means to the City’s bottom line and which City employees are assigned vehicles specifically for their use.

By connecting the dots, for instance, ELi’s reporting staff noticed that the “who gets a car” list turned out to closely overlap with the small number of employees who rated the City Manager on his job performance in advance of Council extending his contract.

EHOP also turns out to intersect with ongoing discussions about possible rental conversions in Chesterfield Hills. At least one of the houses purchased by a City employee using EHOP involved a house converted from rental to owner-occupied and sold well below market value a few years earlier, via a special rental conversion deal made by the City, according to a 2016 memo.

As with so many topics we cover, connecting the dots helps us understand more about each individual subject, and helps us explain to you what we know about local operations, the use of tax dollars, and the provision of public services. We appreciate that our readers support us in a long-term fashion that allows us to track lots of stories long-term, so that we can do a better job bringing you a fuller picture of the local news.

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