Sparrow to spare vacant eastside houses, at least for now

U-of-M Health official promises cooperation with neighbors in deciding their fate


Some eastside Lansing residents have been concerned that Sparrow Health System is going to tear down eight vacant homes it owns in the Eastfield Neighborhood, which is just east of the Michigan Avenue hospital.

But no such plans are in the works, Margaret Dimond, regional president of University of Michigan Health, said. U-of-M Health acquired Sparrow last spring.

Dimond said Sparrow wants to determine the fate of the properties with the cooperation of resients.

Dimond said there’s been concern about break-ins, causing issues for Sparrow’s security and the Lansing Police Department over public safety in the area.

Eastfield is a neighborhood along Michigan Avenue.
Eastfield is a neighborhood along Michigan Avenue.

The homes, which were acquired by Sparrow in 2016 and 2017, are at 118, 122 and 128 N Holmes St.; 1316 and 1320 Jerome St.; and 123, 125 and 127 Ferguson St.

Dimond said the board of directors is looking at options and community partners for what’s next for the homes, with demolition being “probably most expensive and least desirable.”

Margaret Tassaro, president of the Eastfield Neighborhood Association, said residents were concerned about houses’ being torn down without knowing ahead of time.

Tassaro said in 2020, Sparrow attended an association meeting and shared a proposal to tear down a block of houses to develop a surface parking lot.

“We neighbors love living on the east side. We take pride in our neighborhood and we care about it. We care about our community and a surface parking lot does not add value to our neighborhood,” Tassaro said.

Tassaro said the association is hoping it can work together with Sparrow to determine the fate of the property moving forward.

“It’s a little bit discouraging that there are vacant homes in our neighborhood. Housing is an issue for many people. These are houses that people could be living in,” Tassaro said.

Staci Bakkegard, Sparrow’s facilities director, said a lot of the houses are crumbling with broken windows, old roofs and rotted wood decks, leaving potential for break-ins, mold growth and water damage.

The houses haven’t been occupied since Sparrow acquired them and likely have mold, lead paint and asbestos, Bakkegard said.

“A house that’s not occupied doesn’t get better with time. We don’t have a good starting baseline in these houses right now,” Bakkegard said.

Bakkegard said since the hospital is “land-locked” and unable to expand, it made sense to ask, “What might these properties hold for the hospital in the future?” and purchase the homes to have the agency to expand in the future if needed, similar to the process of buying Bingham Elementary School and converting it to the hospital’s cancer center.

“A lot of hospitals are buying up land,” Dimond said, giving ambulatory surgery centers as an example. Rather than an inpatient setting, physicians or surgeons can treat patients in off-site centers and send them home the same day without entering the main campus.

In the case of Bingham Elementary, Sparrow recognized there was a larger need for cancer treatment than what the hospital could provide,
Bakkegard said, and at the same time Sparrow began a site-search to expand, the Lansing School District decided to close the school.

A Sparrow official also confirmed to First Ward Lansing City Council Member Ryan Kost that there are no plans to tear down any of the houses.

Kost was approached by residents of the Eastfield Neighborhood to address the rumors of the homes’ being torn down with a community contact point at the hospital.“Their concern is that, if (Sparrow) tears down those houses, that will forever change their neighborhood,” Kost said. “They’re concerned about the future of their neighborhood.”

Before any conversations start about what the houses could turn into for Sparrow, their first priority is to prevent the hospital-owned properties from posing a risk in the community for crime, drugs and squatting.

“We need to do something for the community,” Dimond said.

Dimond said the hospital is weighing options such as bringing the homes up to current code and standards of occupancy, or if the homes are not “rehab-able” or it costs more to update them than to demolish them, how can Sparrow be a good neighbor?

“Should we create a park-like environment, like a green space? Or do we take that parcel of land and create something that’s mutually beneficial?” Dimond said. “We really haven’t made any decisions. I would welcome any constructive ideas or partnerships as we go forward.”



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