Millennial housing options for millennial Lansing

Metro Lansing isn’t hurting for young people. The millennial generation, made up of the 20- and 30-somethings born between 1980 and 2000, comprises about two-thirds of the capital city’s population, according to the 2010 census. Not included in that number are the more than 50,000 “temporary residents” that Michigan State University attracts to East Lansing and the surrounding communities every school year, tipping the scale severely in favor of youth.
“One of the reasons I like Lansing so much is because there’s so much to do and there are a lot of people (my age),” says Lansing resident Cortney Weaver. “I can walk to see the Lansing Lugnuts, walk to a brewery, and I’m within walking distance to some of my friends. It’s very convenient.”
Weaver, 26, works at a local biodefense company, and recently bought a house between downtown Lansing and the city’s Eastside Neighborhood. The Leslie native moved to Lansing five years ago where she lived with roommates before venturing into homeownership. And her home has several amenities that are increasingly crucial aspects for millennials.
“I live across from a community garden, and I’m able to use the compost heap to reduce my waste,” she says. “And this neighborhood has (a 1-GB Internet) connection. I would never live anywhere that doesn’t have that, ever again.”
These features — walkable communities, high-speed Internet, eco-friendly conveniences — are part of a new trend in the way millennials are deciding where to live. The demand has given real estate developers and property managers new things to think about when they’re renovating homes or designing new apartment buildings. And while a concept called cohousing is on the rise around the country — including progressive communities in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York — it hasn’t quite reached mid-Michigan yet.
However, a new project being developed by Okemos-based Forsberg Real Estate Co. is flipping the whole redeveloping-an-urban-core concept on its head by creating its own self-contained community. It’s currently working on a mixed-use development project called Elevation, which will soon break ground near the corner of Jolly and Okemos roads. The housing-and-retail space will have 396 apartments — mostly one- and two-bedroom units, along with some studio apartments — and will include some amenities new to real estate development vocabularies.
“We know that the millennials have a larger desire for community than other age groups, so we’ve designed Elevation to have more of a collective feel,” says Forsberg president/broker Brent Forsberg. “They also tend to have less disposable income than previous generations, so they’re more amenable to sharing resources with others. We’ve come up with some novel solutions to try to appeal to them.”
Elevation will also feature retail space for sandwich shops and convenience items, as well as a community market with a built-in entertainment venue. These will all add up to give Elevation a village-like feel. Residents can pick up groceries, grab a bite to eat, exercise, study or take in a live performance — all within a short walking distance from home.
“Another thing that we’ve seen is that millennials tend to drive less, so we’ve incorporated a lot of bike parking into the design,” Forsberg says. “There’s also wi-fi throughout the entire (complex), and we’re developing mobile apps that would allow them to order items from the stores and just walk in and pick them up.”
The south Okemos location was chosen for its proximity to three of the area’s largest employers: Jackson National Life Insurance Co., Delta Dental and Dart Container. Elevation will be built less than a quarter mile from the Okemos Road exit on I-96, giving commuters to Grand Rapids and Detroit easy on-and-off access.
“Okemos is wonderfully accessible, which is the main reason we chose it for building Elevation,” Forsberg said. “It’s central to the area, and that centrality makes it very attractive to a wide range of apartment seekers, including (our target market of) millennials.”
My Hip Home is another Lansing-based business rejiggering the notion of 21st century living. Rather than build from the ground up, however, My Hip Home renovated existing Lansing-area homes into models of modern convenience. One recent sale included features such as ergonomically placed outlets for portable device charging — a must for anyone with a smartphone or tablet — as well as built-in speakers and jacks to accommodate state-of-the-art entertainment systems, including a flatscreen TV mount above the master bedroom fireplace.
“For the previous generation, it was all about the white picket fence and how the house looked,” says My Hip Home founder Jon Kolbasa. “Millennials are more concerned with finding a house that fits their existing lifestyle, and a lot of that has to do with proximity to friends and family. Our model is predicated on location.”
My Hip Homes only works on homes in certain areas of Lansing that meet the company’s criteria — namely, walkability/bikeability and nearby cultural activities. 
“We also try to incorporate innovative, trendy designs as much as possible, and we commit to (finishing work) that’s environmentally friendly,” Kolbasa says. “It’s important for us that we use things like zero-VOC paint and reclaimed materials. But we’re not just doing that to target millennials. It’s important to us, too, to be good environmental stewards.”  
Even the layouts of the homes are being tweaked. Kolbasa noted that many millennials have jobs that allow them to work from home, so fiber and electrical systems are rebuilt to accommodate commercial-level loads to certain rooms. All homes are capped at $140,000 to keep it realistic for first-time homebuyers.
“The improvements we make do cost quite a bit more, but it adds meaningful value to these homes,” Kolbasa says. “It doesn’t have value to most buyers, but for those it does matter to, it matters a lot.”
Weaver’s home doesn’t have many of these upgrades, but she says she’s willing to roll up her sleeves and learn how to do things like rewire her house. That can-do attitude is another feature of millennials, who’d just as soon look up a YouTube video on something like, say, installing high-efficiency windows as they would call a professional.
“I have a lot of family and friends that know how to do these kinds of things, and it’s actually stuff I want to learn how to do,” Weaver says. “It’s just another benefit of having them live nearby." 

Allan Ross is a frequent contributor to Capital Gains.

Photos © Dave Trumpie
Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.
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