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Grand Rapids Combats Affordable Housing Crisis – Eviction Prevention Program

November 21, 2017 Leave a 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!

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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.

 

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

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

November 2, 2017 1 comment

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

MTM

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.

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

www.dwlawpc.com

Join me at Mel Trotter Ministries 3rd Annual Season of Hope Event – Keynote by Author Ron Hall “Same Kind of Different as Me”

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment

mtm_2016_soh_web_banner3

Occasionally when I am walking in downtown Grand Rapids I will run into a guy with dirty clothes, smelling bad, looking homeless. When I am asked for money, my gut reaction is to want to help. Honestly though, oftentimes I have no idea what is the right response.

 

I will invariably pray for them, but I’m faced with the hard decision:

  • do I give them money?

 

  • do I buy them food?

 

  • do I simply direct them to Mel Trotter Ministries?

 

Should I be doing more?

 

Join me in hearing from Ron Hall, author of “Same Kind of Different as Me”  – you can check out the trailer to the movie, based upon the book, that is coming out soon.

 

Ron Hall’s friendship with a man that society had all but disregarded and given up teaches us all fundamental lessons – namely:

All people are valuable and loved by God. 

 

Hear from some of Ron’s experiences and valuable lessons.

As he tells us in his book:

To love a man enough to help him, you have to forfeit the warm, self-righteous glow that comes from judging.”
On Tuesday September 26, 2017 Mel Trotter Ministries will host its 3rd Annual Season of Hope Event at the JW Marriott with Ron Hall as our guest speaker.

We are still looking for corporate sponsors. Tickets are available here

 

Thank you to our Honorary Leadership Committee!

Kenneth Graham & Linda Vos-Graham
James & Nancy Engen
Tom & Marcia Haas
Cate & Sid Jansma Jr.
Bill & India Manns
Tom & Jackie McGovern
Mark & Elizabeth Murray
Gordon & Karla Oosting
Janis Petrini
Jerry & Marcia Tubergen
Harold & Lori Voorhees, Jr.
Greg & Meg Willit

 

E-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com
http://www.dwlawpc.com
Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Removing Employment Barriers For the Most Vulnerable. Work To Be Done.

August 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Today I read an article from the ABA JournalNY District Attorney’s efforts resulted in some $644,000 of minor offenses being dismissed. Check out the article here.

In making his argument in support of the massive dismissals, the District Attorney explained to the Judge that:

“New Yorkers with 10-year-old summons warrants face unnecessary unemployment risk, housing and immigration consequences,”

 

Such unintended consequences are not unique to New York City.

In West Michigan, our community development organizations see firsthand that outstanding warrants cause significant barriers to employment and housing. Immigration is an ever increasing topic of local and national concern.

 

Indeed, the ABA Journal had noted several years ago that Post-conviction consequences make it difficult for ex-offenders to find jobs – here

The ABAJournal noted that: “The U.S. economy loses up to $65 billion in output each year because of fewer job opportunities for convicted felons, according to a 2010 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The Small Business Association of Michigan – has previously reported that:

Convicts leaving incarceration often have a difficult time re-entering the working world because, according to one survey, 65 percent of employers would never consider hiring someone with a felony record.

 

Michigan’s Role..

Michigan government has taken steps to remove such employment barriers. The Work Opportunity Act was introduced in the Senate back in February to further incentive businesses in hiring former convicted felons.  You can check out my previous articles on the matter here.

More Locally…

Check out Mel Trotter Ministries and their Community Outreach Court – formerly “Street Court” initiative.

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An older  press release (here) details how MTM, Degage Ministries and Heartside Ministries help the homeless with criminal backgrounds.

I’m thankful for the work that Mel Trotter, Degage, Heartside, and other organizations are doing to help the homeless in West Michigan clear up outstanding legal issues that are just another obstacle between them and employment..

Also Worth Praising their Efforts….

There are a number of great companies who reach out to support putting Michiganders with certain barriers to work.  Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids lead by CEO Kathy Crosby does a fantastic job of equipping this demographic and putting them into long term employment.

Some West Michigan companies who do a great job of reaching out to hire/place those with employment barriers are Cascade Engineering and its Founder Fred Keller. Others include Lacks EnterprisesKentwood Office Furniture and Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids lead by Janis Petrini to name a few.

These community partners deserve praise for their work putting to work the “unemployable” and the vulnerable in our local community.

To conclude:

there’s work to be done.

Questions? Comments?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Community Revitalization To Include Downtown Grocery Stores: Update on The Urban Food Initiative.

August 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday I read a story about a Detroiter, Raphael Wright who plans on opening a “mission-driven supermarket” in downtown Detroit. Check out the article on NextCity.

Raphael’s idea is sparked by a much needed grocery option in Detroit- particularly for low-income residents.

I love this idea.

A few years back I took my family to New York 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.

food-healthy-vegetables-potatoesI love downtown Grand Rapids.

 

If Grand Rapids wants to encourage urban living, it needs a downtown grocery store.

In February, House Bill 4207 was introduced in the Michigan house. Known as the “Urban Food Initiative” it would provide incentives for community revitalization that would include a downtown Grocery Store.

 

 

Specifically, HB 4207 would make “Urban Food Initiatives” allowable to receive funds under the Michigan Community Revitalization Program

 

An update since my last post, in May, the Trade and Commerce Committee recommended a substitute bill, check here.

The Bill substitute changed the name,  Urban Food Initiatives, to “NEIGHBORHOOD AND COMMERCIAL CORRIDOR FOOD INITIATIVE”  – thereby broadening the applicability of these community revitalization incentives –  I have bracketed the additional language:

Property that will be used primarily as a retail supermarket, grocery store, produce market or delicatessen that is located in a downtown [OR IN A DEVELOPMENT AREA AS DEFINED IN SECTION 2 OF 3 THE CORRIDOR IMPROVEMENT AUTHORITY ACT] area…that offers unprocessed USDA inspected meat and poultry products or meat products that carry the USDA organic seal, fresh fruit and vegetables, and dairy products for sale to the public.”

The other substantive revision to the substitute bill would require that at least 5% of community revitalization incentives be awarded to these initiatives. Check out the Bill Analysis from the House Fiscal Agency, for more information.

 

Clearly having available and healthy food options in a downtown are necessary to City living, particularly for low-income residents. Check out a previous article from Next City about the Food Revolution in Detroit.

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. Grand Rapids has a need for affordable housing for the most vulnerable in our society. It would be great to see grocery options as well.

I am looking forward to tracking the progress of this bill. I am also encouraged by the many businesses in West Michigan taking serious their responsibility as community stakeholders and asking the question: “How am I building a better community?

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

Real Estate Investors and Property Managers Should Keep Track of this “Bed Bug Bill”

2015-11-05 11.34.56During the school year I mentor students at a local school in the West side of Grand Rapids. This school has a great supportive community behind it – as you can see from the photo I took a few years back.

I recall a conversation with one student whose family was transient – moving quite often and usually under unfortunate conditions.  This student recalled to me the time that he and his mom lived in an apartment for a brief time and had to leave because of bed bugs. The emotion on the kid’s face as he recalled the story was evident.  It was not a pleasant experience.

Last year a class action case against a Real Estate Owner reached a settlement involving payment of over $2 Million to 100 tenants – ABAJournal reported that story here

One of the primary complaints was that “the 26-unit building had a massive cockroach infestation.

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.

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.

 

My thoughts:

Bedbug infestation is a problem. It can cause tenants problems.  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.

 

Questions? Comments?

email: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

http://www.dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka

More Updates on Michigan’s Affordable Housing Crisis

June 2, 2017 3 comments

Today is a beautiful day in downtown Grand Rapids. The photo below actually from yesterday. There is something about the sun that just puts me in a good mood.

A few days ago I did not have a sunny disposition. I was in court during a landlord/tenant docket. I’ll be honest – it was a depressing scene.  Many of the people in the courtroom were in a sad condition – one lady was visibly intoxicated.IMG_1570

Grand Rapids’ Housing Crisis

This morning I read an article on how the Rental Housing Market Leads to Homelessness in Grand Rapids

Clearly, Grand Rapids, and other parts of the State and Nation have an affordable housing crisis. I have previously offered my own perspective, both as a lawyer representing real estate developers/investors, and as Board Chairman at Mel Trotter Ministries.

A Community Problem – requires Community Collaboration

Recently Mel Trotter Ministries announced that it was partnering with 3:11 Youth Housing and the NAACP to provide housing for homeless males ages 18-24.

This effort could not have happened without collaboration between community stakeholders. It also couldn’t have happened without real estate owners willing to put “purpose above profit”.

There are other examples of social enterprises taking action to address affordable housing. One community partner is Pastor Jim Davis and his company “Purpose Properties

“The mission of Purpose Properties is to “raise enough money from local foundations and philanthropists to buy market-rate and affordable rental properties in the city.”

It will take all community stakeholders to do their part – businesses, churches, government, and non-profits.

The question we should all ask ourselves: Am I working to build a better community?
Legal Updates – Bills and Lawsuits.

 

A few months back I wrote about a Michigan House Bill introduced that would repeal Michigan’s prohibition on rent control. This Bill seemed to be a “gut response” to the affordable housing crisis that we are facing in Michigan and all across the United States.

Other local governments across the U.S. are exploring legislative avenues to address the housing crisis.

A few days ago, Representative Stephanie Chang introduced a few other Bills on Affordable Housing.

On May 31, 2017 House Bill 4686 was introduced that would allow local government  to “adopt an ordinance to limit the rent paid by senior citizens and individuals with a disability to 50% of their household incomes.”

Tie-barred to that Bill was House Bill 4687  which would prohibit local government from enacting, maintaining, or enforcing “an ordinance or resolution that would have the effect of  controlling the amount of rent charged for leasing private resident.”

Representative Chang also spoke on the issue of Affordable Housing at a Detroit Housing Summit a few days ago at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

 

DOJ sues City of Jacksonville for refusing to allow development of permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities.

You can check out the press release from yesterday – Where Cities Can Get in Trouble with Fair Housing Laws

Yesterday, the Department of Justice issued a Press Release concerning an agreement it reached with the City of Jacksonville, Florida. Apparently, the DOJ sued the City concerning “allegations that the city violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act when it refused to all ow the development of permanent supportive housing for individuals with disabilities in its Springfield neighborhood.”

As part of the settlement, the City has agreed to “establish a $1.5 million grant to develop permanent supportive housing in the city for people with disabilities.”

 

e-mail: Jeshua@dwlawpc.com

Twitter: @JeshuaTLauka