Persistence Pays Off for Healthy Homes, Kids


Momentum continues to build fast to solve the problem of children being exposed to lead in Grand Rapids – and to keep kids from hurting in our community. The culmination of two years of work is lining up across the city, county, and state – a change which will help families provide safe housing for their children.

A major catalyst for this increased awareness started in 2014 when Flint’s water crisis came to the national spotlight and brought attention and funding to lead issues. Locally, that spotlight that shifted to what was happening to children in Grand Rapids, in neighborhoods in the 49507 zip code, when the Healthy Homes Coalition brought forth data that showed dust in homes in Grand Rapids is as equally potent in poisoning children as the water in Flint.

The uptick in the number of lead poisoned children in 2015 lead the Healthy Homes Coalition to work with the Grand Rapids Urban League and the NAACP to organize to a March 2016 town hall meeting at LINC, attended by community members, as well as politicians at the state, county, and city levels. The town hall meeting opened an honest dialogue between those affected by lead and those who can affect change. Several parents shared their personal stories, and for many, the issue was no longer abstract; the suffering became real. Clearly, lead poisoning wasn’t going away on its own. New measures needed to be enacted.

At the same time, the state began to tune in to the problem in Grand Rapids. After connecting with Healthy Homes staff at an event in Lansing, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley came to visit the Healthy Homes offices in March 2016 to talk about solutions.

Building upon Lt. Gov. Calley’s understanding of the depth and severity of lead poisoning in Grand Rapids and throughout the state, Governor Snyder appointed the Child Lead Poisoning Elimination Board in June 2016. Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss and Healthy Homes Executive Director Paul Haan were appointed to the board, which was chaired by Lt. Gov. Calley, to examine lead statewide and to help develop specific recommendations.  

Once those recommendations were delivered, the Governor appointed a permanent commission to further the progress the board started. The Child Lead Exposure Elimination Commission was created by executive order on March 16, 2017 with many of the board’s original members serving, including Paul Haan.  

In 2016, the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County began to ramp up local efforts. With the encouragement of Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, Kent County Commissioner Jim Saalfield appointed the Kent County Lead Task Force in October 2016. The Task Force, co-chaired by County Commissioner Emily Brieve and City Commissioner Senita Lenear, finalized its recommendations to the county Board of Commissioners in early February 2017.

Throughout the past two years, the Healthy Homes Coalition’s dedication to solving the problem of childhood lead poisoning has never wavered. Instead, Healthy Homes has continued to work with determination to build consensus around the urgency of lead among local, county, and state government officials.

During the process, the Healthy Homes Coalition has seen a plan come into focus.  The five-point plan being promoted by the Healthy Homes Coalition that spans the discussion at the state, county, and local level focuses upon five things:

  • All children under age 6 must be tested, especially at ages 1 and 2. When a child is lead poisoned, we will to go to their house and find out why.
  • Homes must be tested before more children are poisoned.
  • Homes must be fixed before more children are poisoned.  
  • Contractors must work lead-safe.
  • Engage and listen to the community every step of the way.

Mayor Bliss’ comments during her February 2018 State of the City address affirms  the urgency of the problem and her commitment to new and aggressive solutions.

"The recent increase in lead poisoning is a call to action," said Mayor Bliss. "It’s time for the city to work more closely with our partners to aggressively test for lead, examine our housing codes, increase screening for lead hazards before occupancy, and accelerate remediation."

The Healthy Homes Coalition has been involved with the movement every step of the way and is fully committed to continuing the momentum, making sure the plans enacted turn into actionable progress that helps children stop hurting.