Back in 2015 Maria heard a knock on the door of her home in Southwest Detroit. When she opened it she found a team member from Green and Healthy Homes Initiative Detroit-Wayne County. He had good news. He told her he could help make her home healthier and safer for little or no cost.

That’s what GHHI Detroit-Wayne County does. A collaboration of nearly 50 partner organizations, it is committed to create green, healthy and safe homes for children and families living in Detroit and Wayne County.

The team member told Maria’s he could have her home tested for lead, provide free fire alarms, wind alarms and deadbolts as well as help her get pre-qualified for other programs that would make her house safer and bring it up to code.

Three months later Maria’s home was tested and lead was found in the ceiling. Her two kids, now ages 7 and 4, were tested and, thank heavens, the results were negative.

The ceiling was stripped of the lead paint and repainted. The GHHI team also repainted the window sills, built a new porch, put in a new water heater, laid new carpet in all the rooms and HEPA-vacuumed the whole house.

Maria got a new HEPA vacuum to keep the allergens out of her home and green cleaning supplies free of harmful chemicals. The team also helped her get homeowners insurance.

“I was so happy and content,” she says. “I never thought there was a program to help this way. It was like stepping into a new home.”

GHHI Detroit-Wayne County was created five years ago and based on the Kresge Foundation’s “Get the Lead Out” program. Other funders include The Skillman Foundation, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the City of Detroit, Wayne County, the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning/National GHHI, and the Open Society Foundations.

The goal is to help get rid of common household hazards including lead, excess cold and heat, dampness and mold growth, fall hazards, poisons, fire hazards, faulty electrical, radon, carbon monoxide, pests, and structural deficiencies. For many families there is no cost.

The work done in homes in Southwest Detroit like Maria’s was the pilot program.

How it works

Here’s how the program works.

Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies, a GHHI-Detroit Wayne County partner, sends AmeriCorps members, work study students and staff into the neighborhoods to go door-to-door. Many are bilingual and speak either Spanish or Arabic. Up to six students are out and about every day.

“We call it barrier busting,” says Jonatan Martinez, research assistant in the Center and one of the individuals who went door-to-door in Southwest Detroit.

When they find a problem they give information to partner such as CLEARCorps, which prevent lead poisoning and creates healthy homes for children and families through programs, education and outreach, and policy work. Its The Lead Safe Homes Program abates lead hazards from homes in Detroit.

“The objective is to make sure homes with kids have hazardous remediation,” says Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies, and a professor in the Department of Political Science at Wayne State University. “We go door-to-door to homes that may have lead. The goal is prevention before there is lead poisoning. The vast majority is lead paint, which shreds off walls and the dust gets into the atmosphere.”

Many Detroiters face the same issues as Maria did.

A study conducted through the Center for Urban Studies found that 63 percent of the homes in Detroit had at least one major health or safety hazard present in the home.

These old comics show just how unaware people were of the dangers of lead based paint. Most homes built before 1960 have lead based paint that can poison children and result in brain damage.

High lead levels in Detroit kids

The numbers are just as scary for lead levels.

According to Mary Sue Schottenfels, executive director of CLEARCorps, 17 percent of the kids tested in 2015 in the city’s 48214 zip code had elevated levels of lead.

That not only affects their health, it can destroy their ability to do well in school, which severely limits their future success. A lead-poisoned child is seven times more likely to drop out of high school, six times more likely to enter the juvenile justice system and 50 percent more likely to do poorly on the MEAP, according to CLEARCorps.

To stop that slide and give Detroit kids a better chance at success, GHHI Detroit-Wayne County’s is targeting neighborhoods with the highest potential for lead poisoning.

To figure out those neighborhoods, Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies developed the Detroit Healthy Homes Database, which lists addresses where reports, inspections or other healthy homes work has been done. It has recently been expanded to include maps illustrating where healthy homes-related incidents are higher and lower at zip code and census track levels.

The database also collects, stores and manages data related to Green and Healthy Homes projects across multiple sites. The data is updated when new information is available and all partners are linked electronically.

The findings are daunting.

“Many of these homes need to be torn down,” says Schottenfels. “Yet people keep living in them because they don’t have the resources to move.”

Nor do many residents have the dollars for remediation or simply the cost of keeping the home up. For example, it costs $5,000-$20,000 to remove lead from a home, she says.

A three-year $750,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation to CLEARCorps will cover work in the 48214 zip code and other of the organization’s lead-related programs. There are also grants from the City of Detroit, the State of Michigan and HUD. Schottenfels says there may also be dollars available from the $23.8 million Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program, which focuses on Flint.

“CLEARCorps Detroit, through the State of Michigan/HUD grant, remediates about 100 homes per year,” Schottenfels says. “With the 48214 Lead Safe Block program we hope that many homes in 48214 will receive remediation.”

To date, GHHI-Detroit-Wayne County has done 364 interventions, serving 1,085 residents, including 448 children. It has conducted lead abatement services and distributed more than 2,060 home safety products, including smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, fire escape ladders, radon test kits, deadbolt locks, energy-efficient light bulbs, windows/door alarms and more.

Program is expanding

The organization is committed to serving all of Detroit and Wayne County, and the program is expanding.

This year it will concentrate on eight neighborhoods. See the map below.

There is a particular focus on Detroit’s North End / Central Woodward neighborhood. So far, 142 homes in North End/Central Woodward have been assessed for housing and safety issues by CLEARCorps and partners, and 137 homes have received intervention services, according to the GHHI Detroit-Wayne County website.

Remediation provides jobs

The need to remediate and renovate homes provides meaningful employment opportunities for underemployed and unemployed individuals through the Green Job Training and Placement program.

The work is complex and a good deal of training is needed. Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, a partner of GHHI Detroit-Wayne County, and other partner agencies use their expertise and resources to create green jobs and transform communities through sustainable and environmentally just practices.

If you or someone you know is interested in being trained for green jobs, contact Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice at (313) 833-3935 or visit its website at You can also contact Detroit Training Center at (313) 221-5876 or visit its website at

“We must expand the workforce,” says Schottenfels. “We are woefully short of people to do this work. Our goal is to find more this year. We need to ramp up in all areas.”

GHHI also needs more partners. (For a list of current partners, please click here.)

“We are asking other businesses to get involved and help us raise more money,” Thompson says. “We need other partners to participate.”

GHHI Detroit-Wayne County is helping Detroiters like Maria protect their children and break the link between unhealthy homes and unhealthy children, giving them a new lease on life.  Our city’s kids deserve that.

If you or someone you know needs assistance with a household hazard, click here to visit the GHHI Get Help page which includes contact information of partner organizations. You can also contact the Green Healthy Homes Initiative Detroit-Wayne County at 5700 Cass, 2207 A/AB in Detroit or by email or call (313) 473-7566.

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