Ah, East Lansing. Initially named “Collegeville,” this city is the body to which Michigan State is the heart. For at least 10 months of every year, college students swarm the streets of E.L., making it the epitome of a college town. But while East Lansing becomes the temporary home of thousands of students each year, the city is also home to many long-term residents who have lived here for longer.
“All of the communities near campus have students in them, but they also have long-term residents or non-student residents in them, so they’re mixed in some proportion to one another,” said Erin Carter, Community Liaison for the MSU-East Lansing community. “Obviously, the ones closest to campus because of the proximity and the ease of walking, tend to have the greater number of students.” [carter]
It’s clear to those simply passing through the city that East Lansing prides itself on being the home of MSU. Throughout the entire city, Spartan flags fly high, Go State! posters and stickers adorn almost everything, and a number of businesses are either geared toward students and faculty, or at least use keywords like “Spartan,” “Campus,” or just “State,” in their slogans and names. A city so seemingly in love with MSU should be quick to embrace the university’s students then, right? Not always.
The City of East Lansing’s Web site states that the city considers “all MSU students to be residents of our unique community, and [the city] value[s] what [students] add to our community by way of academia, athletics and more.” While this may be true, a difference in lifestyles between student and non-student residents can sometimes create tension between the two parties.
Differences in sleeping times can sometimes create a problem between student and non-student residents. To generalize, it could be said that students have different sleeping schedules than most other human beings. During a typical night in East Lansing, we can be found roaming the streets, looking for food, friends or whatever else we deem necessary at the time. For non-student residents, this schedule might seem obnoxious. On the other hand, students have to deal with residents who choose to mow their lawns at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. [studhouse]
Instead of being able to sleep in on the precious weekend, Sean McNally, a James Madison junior who lives off-campus, said he often gets woken up earlier than he’d like by noisy neighbors. “It has happened before and I haven’t been able to fall back asleep,” he said. “Then, it puts me in a bad mood for the rest of the day.”
The typical college party is another way in which student and non-student residents can butt heads. No one wants scantily-clad drunk girls passing out on their lawns or over-confident college boys puking on their sidewalks. In addition, no college student wants their neighbors to call the cops every time they have a get-together.
Because of such lifestyle differences, it can be seen that some East Lansing residents do prefer to live in areas void of student renters. In fact, in 2004, City Council approved an ordinance that allows residents to petition for and establish “residential rental restriction overlay districts.” In simpler terms, East Lansing residents can ask their neighbors to sign an agreement to make their neighborhood virtually free of renters, and thus free of students.
Today, 12 overlay districts have been established in East Lansing. The size of each district varies, with some of the largest districts covering sections of about 20 different streets. While houses with rental licenses can exist within the overlay districts, the goal of the ordinance was to allow residents to control the types of rental properties, if any, that go up in their neighborhoods.
According to Howard Asch, director of East Lansing’s Code Enforcement and Neighborhood Conservation Department, the overlay districts have some rental properties in them, but they mostly have boundary on rental areas that are heavily populated by students. For a city that supposedly prides itself so much on MSU’s students, attempting to restrict where the students can actually live seems a little hypocritical.
[asch]For example, City Council is currently considering adopting an ordinance that would allow residents who are having trouble selling their homes to temporarily rent out part of their houses without obtaining a rental license. This would mean that students could move into homes in overlay districts from which they were previously excluded. In response, residents of overlay districts have attended the council’s public hearings to show their opposition to the ordinance.
“I think there’s a fear anytime there’s anything new with rental requirements,” Asch said. “People are afraid that it’s going to negatively impact their neighborhoods.”
As MSU’s enrollment continues to grow each year, the demand for student housing continues to increase as well. A few of the largest overlay districts are right off campus, and they restrict areas of the city with close proximity to the university from student renters. This forces more students to live farther away from the campus in which their college years surround.
Living in closer proximity to MSU’s huge campus makes getting places less of a hassle. Getting to class on time from a farther location, especially in the winter months, can be difficult. Finding and paying for on-campus parking is always a pain, and for those who don’t have a car, depending on the bus for a ride can lead to cold, frustrating waits outside, only to arrive late to class anyway. Living closer to campus gives students the opportunity to take shorter bus rides or walk on nice days. Even when the bus is not an option, a short walk in miserable weather is better than a long walk in the same conditions.
In addition, some feel that much of the point of attending a huge university like MSU lies in student life. Most student activities and hang-outs are on or near campus, and students who live farther away from campus may suffer a disadvantage from living away from all the action. If students are pushed to live farther away from campus, they might miss out on aspects of campus life, and in turn, student involvement in campus activities and gatherings will decrease.
[house2]”Sometimes it seems like there is more going on around campus than many of the apartment complexes have going on,” said MSU sophomore and Chandler Crossings resident Lance Kohs. “Campus is the center of the community though, so that makes sense.”
In an area where student and non-student residents cooperate with each other’s needs, a petition to turn the neighborhood into an overlay district is less likely to be signed. The majority of East Lansing is not under an overlay petition, and Carter said that many residents really enjoy living near or around students.
“I think that it is a give and take from both perspectives,” she said. “People just need to be mindful. Regardless of who your neighbor is, how are you being neighborly to them? How are you respecting them and paying attention to your needs as well as their needs?”
The integration of student and non-student residents in East Lansing is what makes it an enjoyable place for many to live. With a little bit of “give and take” from both groups, both students and non-students can situate themselves in neighborhoods that are enjoyable and convenient to live in.