Archive for the ‘community development’ Category

Calling the Next Generation of Leaders.

March 22, 2018 Leave a comment

Good morning and Happy Thursday! It is a beautiful morning in downtown Grand Rapids!



Yesterday was the annual meeting of the Trustees of Mel Trotter Ministries. It was one year ago that my term ended as Board Chair.

Last year I shared my reflections on this experience.

One of my great joys during this time was seeing the launch of Mel Trotter Ministries 2020 Strategic Plan.  Check it out to see some exciting things we see in the near future for MTM.



Detroit Nonprofit Day

Today,  I was reading about an upcoming event called Detroit Non-Profit Day

This is a one day conference in April devoted to preparing non-profits for financial and sustainable growth.

Reflecting on Detroit NonProfit Day and  my experience at Mel Trotter as well as serving other nonprofits, got me thinking on nonprofit sustainability and prompted me to write this post.

This is an issue that all non-profits need to address:

how are non-profits going to stay viable in the future?


However, the issue I wanted to address in this post is sustainability in leadership.


My Call to Next Generation Leaders. We Need You.

I can appreciate the anxieties that many service-minded folks can experience when faced with volunteer/board service. Particularly the next generation/millennials.

Many feel inadequate and inexperienced.

I had a conversation recently with a friend – we serve on a committee together where the rest of the people around the table are successful influencers and leaders in the business community. My friend made the comment to me that “one of these things is not like the other.” He was pointing out the obvious – we, in both our minds,  stuck out like a sore thumb because our relative young age.

Simply put, when you are younger and sitting around a table full of gray-haired folks who have achieved much more than you, it is easy to let insecurity or doubt slip in.

This insecurity can be a road block for many in putting themselves out there for service.

If that’s you – here’s my call to you:

What you are experiencing is normal.

But get over it.

Fight through the temptation to be passive. Be bold and reach out to the organization that fits your passions.

Don’t do it for yourself – do it for the cause that you care about.

Because whether the organization acknowledges it or not – they need you.

They need your perspective, and they need you to get involved to gain experience and develop institutional knowledge in how their nonprofit works.

You only learn the strengths and the gaps of an organization by spending time in that organization in active service.


Here’s a selfish plug for Mel Trotter Ministries – interested in learning more about ways to serve or connect with the leadership? Join me for lunch.

At Mel Trotter Ministries, we are always looking for volunteers. We need people who have a heart for the hungry, homeless and hurting in West Michigan.  As we seek to end homelessness in West Michigan, one life at a time, it is a large task and we cannot do it alone.


This is my call to everyone, but particularly our next generation of leaders – millennials and beyond.

Ask yourself:


How can I serve?




Millennials – I’m reminded of the Bible – 1 Timothy 4:12 –

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers

The fact remains – the millennial and younger generations are our future leaders.

Now is the perfect time to get plugged into one of the many opportunities to serve and lead.

Please take this as your personal invitation from me –

Take the initiative.

Get engaged.

Just show up.



Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka


Lessons from Court: Real Estate Investors combating the Affordable Housing Crisis

February 1, 2018 Leave a comment

I took this photo this morning. Even when its cold outside, there is just something about the morning sun rising over Grand Rapids that gets me excited.



Wearing Multiple Hats.

Life is complicated when we wear multiple hats. I’ve written about the multiple hats I wear.

We all wear multiple hats. For example – I am a Christ Follower, a husband, a father, an attorney, a (recent) church elder, a volunteer, a mentor, etc…


The two roles that I find colliding most often are as follows:


Hat 1. I am an attorney representing business owners including real estate investors.

Hat 2. I am the past-board Chair at Mel Trotter Ministries – and am committed to ending homelessness, one life at a time.


Two Universes colliding

My two universes often collide and bring me right into the middle of a thick tension. That tension is highlighted by a scenario I often find myself in, such as the one a few days ago.


Recently I walked into the courthouse with a relatively simple task: obtain a Judgment for my client.


My client, real estate investor, recently purchased property that had an existing holdover tenant. This tenant had not paid any rent in months.


The complicating factor that I discovered when I met the tenant outside the courtroom:

the tenant was a single woman with young children, with no place to go.


These are the situations that law school doesn’t prepare you for.

How do I advise my client in this situation?


An Affordable Housing Crisis.

I just read an article today from Nick Manes at MIBiz on how in Grand Rapids there is still a Strong Demand for rental real estate.

This article is one of many constant reminders that it is hard to find housing in Grand Rapids, even if you can afford it.

The young lady I met at court, and others similarly situated, could very well find herself homeless.

I am thankful for places like Mel Trotter Ministries where in 2017 over 400 individuals found housing.



Three Examples of Real Estate Investors being part of the Solution.

I am thankful for those who are willing to work with tenants. In the case above, my client agreed to provide additional time for the tenant to find other housing.

See here for my article on the Eviction Prevention Program – a program implemented last month intended to address the affordable housing crisis in Grand Rapids.


Another client scenario comes to mind. This particular client is a well-to-do business owner with a big heart, and entered into the residential real estate rental industry truly to be part of the solution – to provide affordable housing to those in need without gouging those on a fixed budget – even though the market would allow my client to charge higher rent.

This is social entrepreneurship at its finest!

However, in this particular client’s case, my client was “too nice”. He was taken advantage of by a tenant.  In the end, I believe the Landlord’s generosity actually did a disservice to the Tenant by allowing the Tenant to stay months in the property without paying. Certainly the tenant wasn’t helping the landlord by failing to make any efforts to pay.

Many of my clients can’t afford not to receive regular rent. They rely on the rent to pay the mortgage.

This is why it is often said that the affordable housing crisis is complicated.


I also think of the private investor who decided last year to work with Mel Trotter Ministries to house and case manage homeless youth – to get them into their own stable housing. This investor knows that he could get more profit on this rental, but is willing to take less money in hopes of changing the lives of homeless male youths.



A Lesson from these 3 Real Estate Investors….

There are no easy answers here. But what I appreciate about all three of the investors I mentioned above, is that they were all committed to “do something” – maybe somewhat awkwardly at times, maybe with mixed results, but their hearts were in the right place and they all did something to be part of the solution to transforming lives out of homelessness. They were committed to making their community better.


Are we willing to step up and be part of the solution, in some capacity?

We can’t do everything, but we can all do something.


How are we working to build a better community?



Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka



Because We Aren’t Meant to Do Life Alone. Grand Rapids Business Mentoring Connection

January 19, 2018 Leave a comment

On occasion, I post about how I mentor elementary school-aged boys with difficult family backgrounds.

The truth is that kids with hard family backgrounds are not the only ones who need mentors.

The quote in the photo from New City Initiative in Portland, Oregon is revealing in a lot of ways. Homelessness may, by and large, be a product of a lack of relationships.


Applying this statement to the regular working class person who isn’t in jeopardy of going homeless, a lot of our problems could be stymied by the presence of authentic relationships.


The truth is, we aren’t meant to do this life alone.

Yet we so often do just that.

As for me, although I am interacting with many people on any given work day, I find myself too often dealing with concerns, problems and frustrations in a vacuum.

I recall having a conversation with a friend of mine a while back, another business professional. He commented on how, although he knows a lot of people, he doesn’t have anyone that he regularly confides in. He doesn’t have “close friends”.

I think my friend is in good company with many others.

So then why so often do we find ourselves living in a vacuum?

My thoughts:

It is hard to be vulnerable with others.  Our tendency is to hide our imperfections.  We can brush aside the reality that we lack relationships by telling ourselves, or others “I just don’t have time“. I believe that is just a smokescreen for the real issues:

It is hard to admit our weaknesses, failures or shortcomings.

The bottom line: we need to be in authentic relationships.

We need mentors, confidants, people willing to walk along side us.

On the flip side, we need to be pouring into other people as well.

There are excellent resources in our community, I think of an excellent one like the Jandernoa Mentorship Program (JEM).  Unfortunately, I am sure JEM and other groups would readily admit, those resources are limited.


I hear this theme in my work life, in the business community, non-profit service, I hear this when I go to church: call it mentoring, discipleship, or “sharpening iron” – we need to be in authentic relationships to build each other up.

So, I decided to do something about it.

Yesterday I created a Group on LinkedIn: Grand Rapids Business Mentoring Connection

I created this Group simply to provide a forum to make it easy for people to connect in meaningful ways.

1. Professionals who recognize their need for a mentor;

2. Professionals who are established in their career and are willing to share their experiences and failures with others, at any level; and

3. Professionals seeking authentic community and peer relationships.

My goal isn’t that Members of this group have any formal obligation. My hope is that those who join this group are willing to add value to others and connect on a personal level.


So my question and charge to you reading this post:

Who are you pouring into?


Established Professionals: You have something to offer. Consider joining this group and being available to connect with peers, younger professionals on whatever time you have available in your life.

Younger Professionals: Join this Group. Get others to join. Reach out and ask for help. You are the future leaders, but you cannot succeed in life on your own.



Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Michigan Law Update: The Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative. Community Revitalization Now Includes Downtown Grocery Stores.

January 17, 2018 Leave a comment


Several years ago ago I took my family to New York City. (and took the below photo).

Even amidst the chaos of protecting my 4 young children from darting out in2015-11-26-13-04-02to oncoming traffic – we absolutely loved the City.


We loved the walk-ability of City life –

that you could walk down a block to a grocery store and get all of your household needs.


I love downtown Grand Rapids.


(Below, photo I took this morning from my office)

If Grand Rapids wants to encourage urban living, it needs to continue to support growth in downtown grocery stores.


This is not a novel concept.

There has been recent exciting development in Grand Rapids on this front – see Meijer opening a grocery store on Bridge Street.

Also, Russo’s International Market opened last year as well.



“Neighborhood and Commercial Corridor Food Initiative” – Public Act 229

Last March, House Bill 4207 was introduced in the Michigan house. Known as the “Urban Food Initiative.” (re-named “Neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative”)

This Bill intended to provide incentives for community revitalization that would include a downtown Grocery Store.

Specifically, HB 4027 would make “Urban Food Initiatives” allowable to receive funds under the Michigan Community Revitalization Program


Passed into Law

On December 28th this House Bill was given immediate effect and assigned as Public Act 229 . 


The law provides incentives to “new neighborhood” food initiatives. That is why, per the new law:

a new neighborhood and commercial corridor food initiative…is not eligible for a community revitalization incentive if it is located within 1 mile of an existing retail supermarket, grocery store, or produce market…that offers unprocessed USDA-inspected meat and poultry products or meat products that carry the USDA organic seal, fresh fruits and vegetables, and dairy products for sale to the public.”


Hopefully this law will spur development of urban grocery stores in Grand Rapids, and beyond to places like Detroit. There is wonderful community development work going on right now in Detroit, as the article below highlights.


Healthy Food Options – Essential for Urban Living

Clearly having available and healthy food options in a downtown are necessary to City living. Check out this recent article from Non-Profit Quarterly about Communities of Color Developing Residents-Owned Groceries.

According to the Article:

“Grocery stores…often anchor “neighborhood economies, recirculating local revenues through wages and nearby businesses. They can also be neighborhood hubs, where people go to buy good food as well as employment centers and sources of community pride.”

“Alas, the lack of these hubs can be damaging, notes Malik Yakini, who directs the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network. Yakini is one of a host of activists across the country who are working to foster community ownership of food businesses in communities of color.”


We should be encouraging Malik Yakini and others and supporting community ownership of food businesses in communities of color. Hopefully the new law will attract such local ownership.


Parting Thoughts

A downtown grocery store is necessary if a City wants to attract urban living – it is also necessary to provide healthy food options for those living downtown without readily available transportation.

I think particularly of the under-employed and the homeless who receive services from organizations like Mel Trotter Ministries. In Grand Rapids, we are confronted everywhere with the need for Affordable Housing. It would be great to see grocery options as well.

I am also encouraged by the many businesses in West Michigan honestly asking the question: “How am I building a better community?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka


Legal Update: Legislation that Real Estate Investors, Landlords and Veterans Should Keep Tabs on in the New Year.

January 4, 2018 Leave a comment

It is a beautiful and cold afternoon in downtown Grand Rapids today.


We head into 2018 with some Michigan Bills that affect Real Estate Investors, Landlords and Veterans.


The Michigan Legislature is pushing hard to protect those who have served our country.

Yesterday MLive posted that the Michigan Legislature is taking up some 50 bills that will affect Veterans

One such bill I highlighted in a post last summer. On August 16, 2017 HB 4872 was introduced into the Michigan House.

The Bill would amend the “Elliott-Larsen civil rights act,” and would provide that veterans are included in the list of those protected by Michigan law against housing discrimination.

The Bill would define Military Service as:


The Bill brings two thoughts to mind:

  1. Our Veterans and those who served our country deserve to be treated fairly in housing and all other areas of life.
  2. This Bill brings up a fundamental question: are Veterans being discriminated against in housing? Does it happen?


According to statistics recently published in the Bridge with insight from Dennis Van Kampen of Mel Trotter Ministries, there are fewer homeless veterans than ever in Michigan today, but more homeless youth.

The Bill was sent to the committee on Military and Veteran Affairs. No action has been taken on this bill since I posted in August, but I will continue to track this bill.

I look forward to hear comments from the public on this issue: are we in Michigan protecting our Veterans access to fair housing?


“Nuisance Property”: Bill Would Protect Those in Affordable Housing from being penalized for calling 911.

On November 28, 2017 Senate Bill 667 was introduced.

The bill is intended to prohibit local units of government from penalizing tenants, occupants, or landlords of rental dwellings for contacts made for police or emergency assistance in certain situations.

Presumably, the Bill is intended to restrict those municipalities that have ordinances that punish landlords and tenants by labeling a rental property a “nuisance” when a certain number of calls to police or emergency assistance.

The Bill in its current form, generally, holds a “reasonableness” standard – meaning the emergency call must be reasonable under the circumstances – the person making the call must reasonably believe they, or a person they are calling on behalf of, is a victim of a crime; and the intervention is needed to prevent a crime, or respond to an emergency.


This appears to be one of several Bills that would potentially address the affordable housing crisis.

As a reference, I would highly recommend reading Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted” It is no secret that Michigan, particularly Kent County, is experiencing an Affordable Housing Crisis.

One potential way to address this crisis is providing Landlords and Tenants security that their local government unit will not unreasonably label properties as nuisances if the police are called for real emergencies. It appears this Bill is attempting to address such a scenario.


Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Legal Update for Real Estate Investors: Fraud, Harassment, and a Bill to Penalize Falsely Representing Need for a Service Animal.

December 19, 2017 Leave a comment


A beautiful end to Tuesday.IMG_2014

Here’s a profound truth those in the real estate industry will readily acknowledge:

Owning and Managing Real Estate is uniquely challenging.


I hear it from my Property Owner/Manager clients. I experience it when I am involved in negotiating in landlord/tenant disputes.

If you own or manage investment real estate, you are involved in messy business.


I believe that is why, at least in West Michigan, there is an opportunity for good property management companies – and a handful of companies I work with locally do it really well.

DOJ Sues Landlord for Sexual Harassment Allegations

Some of the pitfalls property owners/managers have to watch out for are illustrated in a recent press release announce by the Department of Justice.

Yesterday the Department of Justice announced that it filed suit against Owners and Managers related to allegations of sexual harassment in Kansas properties.

According to the press release, the owner and manager:


sexually harassed female residents at the rental properties from at least 2010 to 2014.  According to the complaint, Thong Cao engaged in harassment that included, among other things, making unwelcome sexual advances and comments, engaging in unwanted sexual touching, and evicting tenants who refused to engage in sexual conduct with him.


Sexual harassment is a violation of several Federal and State laws.


Georgia Real Estate Investor Sentenced to 16 months in Prison

Today, the DOJ announced that a Georgia Real Estate Investor was sentenced to 16 months in Prison for bid rigging public foreclosure sales.

According to the Press Release:

The evidence at trial showed that Purdy and his co-conspirators agreed not to compete for residential real estate at foreclosure auctions in Forsyth County and defrauded lender banks and homeowners.  Among other methods, the conspirators held secret “second auctions” of properties, dividing among themselves the auction proceeds that should have gone to pay off debts against the properties and, in some cases, to homeowners.


In today’s real estate market, bidding is competitive. If you are asked to take part in anything like this at your local sheriff’s sale – DON’T DO IT.
Lying About Emotional Support Animals, a Crime?


Michigan Law requires a public accommodation to permit the use of a service animal by a person with a disability.

Among other things:

“A public accommodation shall not ask a person with a disability to remove a service animal from the premises due to allergies or fear of the animal. A public accommodation may only ask a person with a disability to remove his or her service animal from the premises if either of the following applies:

(a) The service animal is out of control and its handler does not take effective action to control it.

(b) The service animal is not housebroken” MCL 750.502c

Landlords and property owners should heed the warning of General Deputy Assistant Secretary Bryan Greene of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.

“Many people with disabilities require the assistance of an animal to carry out major daily activities,” said  “Complaints alleging disability discrimination now account for the majority of the complaints HUD receives. HUD will continue to enforce the law and educate the public on the rights of people with disabilities in housing.”


However, a Michigan Senate bill proposed on November 28, 2017 would make it a crime to falsely represent the need for a service animal to a landlord. Violation would also give right to a Landlord to evict such tenant.


This is an interesting bill. I look forward to seeing if it gains any traction.



Two takeaways from this news headline:


1. It is worth being proactive and engaging legal counsel. 

Issues arise. When in doubt, e-mail or call your attorney.


2. Residential Real Estate Investment is highly regulated.

If you are a landlord leasing out “residential” property as opposed to purely commercial property (business tenant), you are under much more stringent regulations. You must comply with Federal laws, like the Fair Housing Act and state laws, like the Michigan Truth in Renting Act. Make sure you are operating lawfully.


Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Legal Update for Commercial and Residential Property Managers, Investors: Winter is Here. Are you Prepared?

December 11, 2017 Leave a comment

The snow is coming down in Grand Rapids! I took this photo last week from my office – ice skating has officially started.



With the winter months – comes an issue for landlords, property managers, and real estate investors…

icy sidewalks and parking lots.

These types of conditions are a primary reason why investors hold real estate in LLCs.

Two recent Michigan court cases came out where tenants sued their landlords for injuries related to slip and falls on icy sidewalks/parking lots:

Schuster v River Oaks Garden Apartments

Ferguson v Lautrec LTD

The claims in both cases had to do with a Landlord’s statutory duty under Michigan Compiled Laws 554.139(1)(a) to keep the Property kept fit for its intended use.


In General:

A Difference Between Commercial and Residential Leases – FREEDOM OF CONTRACT

The above mentioned duty is one created by Michigan statute. It does not apply to Landlords/Property Managers or owners of commercial real estate with commercial tenants.

In the residential context, tenants have certain statutory rights, in addition to contractual. These rights provide extra protection from a landlord’s ability to evict the tenant and are found in such places as “Landlord Tenant Relationship Act” and “Truth in Renting Act”.

One such right of a tenant – the residential property must be kept fit for its intended use and in reasonable repair. These conditions must be met in order for a landlord to otherwise evict a breaching tenant. Stated otherwise, the covenant to pay rent is not an independent covenant to a landlord’s duty to keep the property fit for its intended use and in reasonable repair.

In a commercial context the courts’ mantra is “Freedom of Contract“. The Court will look at the contract that the parties’ agreed to, and, absent extraordinary circumstances, enforce it by its term. (therefore in  a commercial lease you might see language such as the following “rent is due with no right of offset, setoff, counterclaim…”) In such instance, the landlord is telling the tenant that tenant has no right to withhold rent just because landlord may have breached a duty under the lease.

The Courts have recognized that commercial landlords and tenants are “free to contract”


Going back to our Case Studies…

Two Cases of Icy Conditions – different results

Ferguson Case

Ferguson was a tenant who slipped and fell on the sidewalk outside of her apartment building. In court, she argued that defendant was  “liable for her injuries because it breached its duty to maintain the common area of the apartment, i.e., the sidewalk, in a condition fit for its intended use as required under MCL 554.139(1)(a).” Id. page 1.

The Court disagreed.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.
MCL 554.139(1)(a) provides the following:

(1) In every lease or license of residential premises, the lessor or licensor
covenants: (a) That the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the

Courts have held that “sidewalks . . . constitute ‘common areas’ under MCL 554.139(1)(a).”).

The question the Court asked was: what is “fit” mean in this context?

“Our Supreme Court defined “fit” as “adapted or suited; appropriate,” Allison v AEW Capital Mgt, LLP, 481 Mich 419, 429; 751 NW2d 8 (2008), quoting Random House Webster’s College Dictionary (1997) (quotation marks omitted), and a sidewalk’s intended purpose is for walking, Benton, 270 Mich App at 444.” Id. page 2-3

Defendant, therefore, has a duty to keep the sidewalk adapted or suited for walking.

The court reviewed the facts, as presented in the trial court and affirmed that “In this case, the sidewalk was not unfit simply because there was a patch of ice”. Id. 3



“According to plaintiff, [Schuster,] the fall occurred as she took her first steps onto the sidewalk surrounding the complex’s mailbox kiosk. As a result of her fall, plaintiff broke her ankle requiring surgical repair with hardware placement.” Id pg 1.

The Court dismissed her claim, finding that Schuster failed to present evidence that the sidewalk was not fit for its intended use.

On appeal, Defendant does not dispute that the sidewalk was intended for walking and specifically for access to the apartment complex mailboxes. However it argues that the sidewalk, even if ice covered,  was fit for its intended purpose.” Id. pg 3-4.

The Court, like in Ferguson, relied on the Michigan Supreme Court decision of Allison:

“In Allison v AEW Capital Mgt, LLP, 481 Mich 419; 751 NW2d 8 (2008), the Supreme
Court considered a landlord’s statutory duty regarding common areas, particularly as concerns natural accumulations of snow and ice. It held that “the natural accumulation of snow and ice is subject to the lessor’s duty established in MCL 554.139(1)(a)” to keep the premises and common areas “fit for the use intended by the parties.” Id. at 438.

The Court held that  the duty of the Landlord was to provide “reasonable access” to
pedestrians seeking to use it. Id. pg 4.

The Plaintiff, Schuster, claimed the sidewalk was “dangerous”.

The Court of appeals noted; “[t]here is substantial evidence that the conditions, as predicted, developed overnight and that by the time of plaintiff’s fall, they were severe.” Id page 3.

The  Defendant Apartment Complex claimed that the presence of snow/ice was merely “inconvenient”.

The Court held that such “genuine dispute” of fact must be presented to a judge or jury. The Court reversed the trial court and sent it back.


Another interesting argument – Defendant claimed that it had no “notice” of the icy conditions.

The Court held that “notice” was not a prerequisite to the landlord’s duty to keep the property in good condition.

“We initially note, as we did in our previous opinion in this case, that there do not appear to be any published decisions that establish that notice of the condition is required to establish a breach of the duty under MCL 554.139(1)(a).” Id. Page 5.


  • Whether or not the presence of ice or snow on sidewalks presents a breach of a Landlord’s duty to keep the property fit for its intended use is a “highly factual inquiry”.  It depends on the facts of each case – which is what Schuster and Ferguson demonstrate.


  • A Landlord likely cannot avoid its duty to keep the property fit for its intended use by claiming a “lack of notice” of the existence of an icy condition.


  • If you are a commercial landlord with a commercial tenant – FREEDOM OF CONTRACT.

Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka