Posts Tagged ‘affordable housing’

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



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

Grand Rapids Combats Affordable Housing Crisis – Eviction Prevention Program

November 21, 2017 1 comment


You know winter is approaching when Rosa Parks Circle begins to freeze over and the ice rink begins to form. See the photo I took from my office yesterday.

In fact, the Ice Rink officially opens on Friday!



Before we know it, downtown will look like a snow globe – see the photo, below, I took from last Christmas.IMG_1927
There is an Address Affordable Housing Crisis

As many of you know, Kent County, like much of the U.S. is experiencing a serious lack of Affordable Housing.

The City of Grand Rapids has made concerted efforts to address problem through an advisory board, which has come up with strategies for addressing the Affordable Housing Crisis




Kent County Eviction Prevention Program

Beginning January of 2018, the 61st District Court will begin a pilot program – the “Eviction Prevention Program” (EPP). Judges Faber and Distel are the initial judges presiding over the EPP.

The EPP was developed as a collaborative effort between the City of Grand Rapids, Salvation Army of West Michigan, The Kent County Court System, the Michigan Department of Human Services and with funding provided by Steelcase.


Purpose of the Eviction Prevention Program

The EPP is intended to keep those tenants in housing, who truly want to stay in their housing.

The program will not be appropriate for every tenant.

The EPP appears best suited for those on the margin of being homeless due to an emergency situation (as opposed to those tenants chronically behind in rent).

The EPP provides one-time rent assistance and would allow a Landlord to hold a possession and money judgment in abeyance, pending the Tenant’s payment of rent.

The program is, essentially,  intended as a one-time emergency for those on a fixed or low income, who are essentially faced with the difficult choice of either paying an outstanding medical bill, car repair bill, groceries, etc.., or pay their rent.


What Property Managers and Landlords need to know about this program:

Landlords – any tenants behind in rent which have been served a summons and complaint for eviction, beginning in January 2018, should be receiving information about the EPP along with the summons and complaint.

Tenants will know that this is a potential resource to keep them in housing.

What you need to know:

1. The program is entirely voluntary. Landlords can choose to opt out.

2. Not every tenant will qualify. A tenant needs to have income to make the next month’s rent payment.

3. The program is geared towards keeping tenants in housing. If a tenant wants out of your property, the program will likely not be the right fit.


Why I like this program.

This program provides an opportunity to keep people in housing who are on the verge of being homeless. The fact is, families are experiencing homelessness in Grand Rapids every day.

Practically speaking, the program works for tenants who have the potential to get caught up, who otherwise are good tenants.

The program is an opportunity for Landlords to get paid and to be part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis.

Housing is a community problem. It is encouraging to see the great collaboration between government, private sector, non-profit sector.




Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Today I was confronted with the Need For Affordable Housing in Grand Rapids.

November 2, 2017 3 comments

Today I did what I routinely do on Thursdays around noon time – I visited the school where I mentor a student.


I walked to the classroom and talked

with his teacher who told me that this student was no longer enrolled in the school.

Just like that, a relationship that I had developed over the school year was suddenly without warning severed.

Imagine what an incident like this does for a kid with an unstable home environment.

In a matter of days an elementary school kid’s life (which, in this case, is typically already chaotic enough) can be flipped upside down.

New school. New housing.

Lack of community.

This program that I have been involved in over the past several years connects adults as mentors to school-aged kids is great.

It provides an opportunity for a supportive adult to encourage and love kids, tell them they are valued, made in the image of God.

This program provides a sense of community, a network of relationships for these kids.

I see how eviction can instantaneously severe these important relationships, causing displacement and uproot community.


My Perspective – Wearing several hats

I’ve written before about the fact that I wear a few different hats

I am a lawyer who represents real estate owners, investors, property managers/landlords.

I am occasionally in court evicting tenants who simply have not paid their rent. This lack of payment causes real problems for landlords, many of whom are simply trying to pay down their mortgage obligations.

I am the past-Board Chair at Mel Trotter Ministries.

MTM is the safety net for the homeless in the community. It is the place where families without a home seek temporary refuge and hope to get back into affordable and stable housing.  MTM is doing its part to find a solution to the affordable housing crisis in Kent County.

I am also a mentor in a local school to students, many who regularly face homelessness.

In the past several years all of the kids that I have mentored have relocated. The reasons and issues behind their relocation are varied and complex.

I know that lack of affordable housing was a factor at least in some of those situations.


I see firsthand the tension:

 We should encourage entrepreneurs to revitalize our community  – we should do everything we can to place families in affordable housing.

There is a tension: and it needs to be embraced.

I get these words of wisdom – to “embrace the tension” we see in our daily lives from a man I admire named Fred Keller – founder of Cascade Engineering. Check out his blog where he speaks directly about the tension between “purpose and profit”

For me, the answer isn’t ignoring the tension on complicated matters – which is why I am writing this post. I embrace it.

I will continue to show up and mentor students.

I will continue to serve at Mel Trotter Ministries.

I will continue to provide legal services to the best of my ability for my business clients.



Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors and Property Managers – Update on the “Bed Bug Bill”

October 31, 2017 1 comment

Today is Halloween so I thought would write on a topic that gives me the creeps…. bed bugs.



Infestations can be an issue that every property manager or owner of residential investment real estate may face.


One June 9th Michigan House Bill 4719 was introduced – by Representative Brandt Iden -himself a Developer and Property Manager in South West Michigan. check out the text here – the Bill would amend the Michigan statute governing landlord tenant relationships to include addressing the control of certain pests – including bed bugs.

Recent Update

There has been no noticeable progress, except that the House Fiscal Agency prepared its legislative analysis a few weeks back – you can check it out here

What the Bill seeks to do:

Impose certain duties on landlords regarding bed bugs:

1. Mandates specifically that the Landlord is to keep the rental space free from bed bugs and provide educational literature about bed bug infestations to new tenants.

2. Prohibits Landlords from renting out space that the landlord knows is infested with bedbugs

3. Provides specific requirements for a landlord to respond to a complaint of bed bugs:

  • within 7 days of receiving a complaint, Landlord shall order an inspection for bed bugs;
  • within 7 days of confirming infestation, Landlord shall begin control and schedule inspections of adjoining rental units.

4. Limits damages against Landlord for infestations unless caused by Landlord’s Negligence.

Impose certain duties on tenants regarding bed bugs:

1. Tenant shall inspect for bed bugs when first occupying the space;

2. Tenant shall not move “infested property” into a rental unit

3. Tenant shall notify Landlord within 2 days of notice of infestation.

4. Tenant responsible for damages due to bed bugs caused by Tenant, or guest.

The bill was referred to the Committee on Law and Justice.

Something that the legislative analysis highlights –

“Notwithstanding any other provision of the Landlord-Tenant Act, the landlord and tenant could agree in writing (by hard copy) or electronic mail how responsibility would be assigned for costs resulting from an infestation, including, but not limited to, costs of
control or treatment.”

This would provide some discretion among the parties to craft a resolution.

My thoughts:

Bedbug infestation is a problem. It can cause tenants problems, particularly in lower income housing. As 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.  Further, unhappy tenants who withhold rent can cause landlord problems that end up in court.

This type of bill could provide clarity to landlords and tenants on their reciprocal duties and rights in such circumstances. It could also provide them flexibility to come up with a resolution to get rid of any infestations.

Questions? Comments?


Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka