Leaders of the Lead Rebellion

Rental property owner James Loftus said with a laugh that he’s often worried that, as a landlord, if he ever got his name in the paper it would be because of something negative. He doesn’t need to worry about that anymore.

Last Saturday, Loftus not only got his name in the paper, it was for something good. In fact, he and two other landlords generated a small media blitz for becoming Grand Rapids’ first rental property owners to be publicly recognized for making their properties lead safe environments for children.

Loftus received the first ever Rental Property Owner of the Year Award and Awards of Merit were presented to landlords Dan Brink and John Sanger.

The awards ceremony, sponsored by RepcoLite Paints, was part of the Rental Property Owners Association of Kent County annual conference.

“All of the landlords being recognized have taken significant steps to protect children from the hazards of lead-based paint,” said Paul Haan, project coordinator of the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan (HHCWM), the agency behind the awards. “The Healthy Homes Coalition is presenting this award because, next to parents, landlords can do the most to protect children from lead.”

James Loftus has made 25 of his properties lead safe, and done all of them in the past two years.

“I did it once” he said, “and it worked out okay, and two years later I looked down and I said ‘Jeez, I’ve done it 25 times!’”

Dan Brink has remediated lead hazards in nine of his rental units, and John Sanger has eliminated the hazard in eight of his properties.

Awards All Around
According to the Environmental Protection Agency:

“Lead is a highly toxic metal that was used for many years in products found in and around our homes. Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children six years old and under are most at risk, because their bodies are growing quickly.”

Houses built before 1978 have a high chance of containing lead-based paint. Making a house lead safe involves any number of procedures, including replacing wood-framed windows and doors, painting walls and baseboards, and putting up siding. Landlords who have completed the federally-certified Lead Safe Work Practices training (all of three of the award winners have) may do the interior painting themselves; licensed lead-abatement contractors must do the other work.

The city of Grand Rapids’ Lead Hazard Control Program is a partner in the Get The Lead Out! project started by The Healthy Homes Coalition. Together they have helped fund lead removal in 411 rental units, with a goal to complete 454 more by the end of 2008.

Since 2003, the Lead Hazard Control Program has received over $9 million dollars in federal grants to pay for public education, lead-safe work practices training, homeowner training, and publicity. All three award-winning landlords received grants from the program of up to $8,000 per rental unit to help defray the lead removal costs.

By all accounts, the movement to eliminate lead from the housing stock in Grand Rapids has been extremely successful. Indeed, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded the local Get the Lead Out! project the 2006 Children's Environmental Health Excellence Award.

Not a Chance
Besides caring about the children who live in their properties, all three landlords cited a second reason for removing the lead hazards: good business investment.

Amy Pranger, property manager for Dan Brink, said Brink has done the lead removal mainly to make his homes safer, but also to make the homes more appealing to tenants.

James Loftus said that because his lead safe houses all have new windows—and many have new doors, interior paint, and siding—his houses are more energy efficient, less drafty, and therefore less expensive to heat.

“There’s satisfaction in providing safe, clean housing,” said John Sanger, “and it’s nice to have a good reputation for having good houses. We get better tenants, and we get referrals. Sometimes we don’t even have to advertise the houses.”

In addition, apartment shoppers are educated about the hazards of lead poisoning.

Simon and Carmen Kempen rent an upstairs apartment from John Sanger. The apartment is an older house on the city’s northeast side.

“We have a two-year-old and a four-month-old,” Carmen said. “We’d been looking at houses, and lead was a huge concern. Almost all the houses we looked at we weren’t sure if there was lead in them or not. You hear horror stories of little kids and lead, and you don’t want to even chance it.”

The Kempens said they were so thrilled to find a lead safe home that they told their friends about it. Now those friends, who also have two small children, are moving into Sanger’s apartment below the Kempens.

A simple finger-prick blood test for children under the age of six can determine if they have elevated blood lead levels. Test kits to determine if a home has lead hazards are available from the Kent County Health Department for $1.

Click here to inquire about the Get the Lead Out! initiative, to get more information on lead hazards for landlords or homeowners, or to apply for a lead-removal grant.


Property owner John Sanger in front of his homes that had lead removed - Photo by Brian Kelly

James Loftus receives his award flanked by Joan Bowman - Photo by Eric Doyle

John Sanger's award - Photo by Eric Doyle

The Kempens home in Creston - Photo by Brian Kelly

Photographs are Copyrighted as noted
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