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Detroit’s Lead-Safe Ecosystem

By Leonymae Aumentado


Lead poisoning is a concern in Detroit due to the prevalence of housing built before 1978 that is likely to contain lead-based paint. Black children and children from low-income families are more likely to live in older housing with lead-based paint due to structural barriers in accessing newer, safer housing, and therefore, are at a greater risk of suffering long-lasting damage to their growth and development, behavioral health, and physical well-being due to lead hazard exposure.

Poverty Solutions partnered with the City of Detroit’s Housing and Revitalization Department to identify organizations involved in Detroit’s lead-safe ecosystem engaging in lead poisoning prevention efforts and to identify gaps in the city’s lead-safe ecosystem relative to Cleveland, Ohio, and Buffalo, New York. This work resulted in the following resources:

  • A Detroit Lead-Safe Ecosystem Gap Analysis, which identifies additional actions that would further strengthen Detroit’s lead-safe ecosystem
  • A series of Detroit Lead-Safe Ecosystem Maps, which shows the system of actors engaged in reducing the risk of child lead poisoning and the conditions that influence their actions, such as laws and housing conditions, and 
  • A Directory of Lead-Safe Stakeholders in Detroit, which lists key information for stakeholders involved in efforts to mitigate child lead poisoning, including governmental agencies, nonprofits, and business associations. 

Key Findings from the Detroit Lead-Safe Ecosystem Gap Analysis

Detroit’s lead-safe ecosystem may be made more robust by establishing structures and mechanisms that encourage broad stakeholder involvement and provide a variety of resources, services, and supports accommodating the breadth of stakeholders, while still fostering accountability of key stakeholders.

Below are identified gaps in Detroit’s lead-safe ecosystem as compared to the lead-safe ecosystems in Cleveland, Ohio and Buffalo, New York. “Gaps” refer to elements missing or underdeveloped in Detroit’s lead-safe ecosystem that appear to have contributed to the successful function of lead-safe ecosystems in these peer cities.

Additionally, key features of robust lead-safe ecosystems identified through this analysis are listed below. “Features” refers to characteristics that enhance the functioning of the lead-safe ecosystem between stakeholders.

Identified Gaps in Detroit’s Lead-Safe Ecosystem

  1. A trusted, neutral actor managing the regular convening and coordinating the relationships and activities of actors across the lead-safe ecosystem. This key actor assumes the responsibility of carrying out the “logistical, mundane” work.
  2. Committee-based coalition structure facilitating coordination between lead-safe actors. Coalitions can ensure accountability and progress on lead poisoning prevention efforts in focus areas such as housing policy, community outreach and evaluation, resource development, and workforce development.
  3. Engagement from actors representing all areas of the lead-safe ecosystem. Committed, systematic, and meaningful engagement is needed from local and state government, working groups, non-profit and community organizations, academic institutions, parents concerned with healthy housing and energy efficiency, environmental public health, and resident and tenant rights, healthcare providers, public school systems, university systems, churches, lawyers and judges, community health workers, philanthropists, financial institutions, private businesses, and others within the community. 
  4. Variety of resources, services, and support for residents and property owners, as well as a centralized intake process for access.
  5. Available and accessible data to better understand the extent of the issue and to develop, support, and evaluate lead-safe initiatives. Data includes both governmental data related to child lead poisoning and non-governmental data, including historical context and stakeholder experience.
  6. Effective mechanisms of accountability to ensure that stakeholders carry out their commitments to lead-safe work, such as news and media coverage of activities, annual coalition reports and project evaluations, the creation of independent oversight roles.
  7. Action following political momentum to reinvigorate community involvement in child lead poisoning prevention. Catalyzing events include greater funding made available for lead poisoning prevention efforts, news and media coverage of child lead poisoning crises and lawsuits against bad actors, and coalition reports and studies.
  8. Focus intervention efforts on interim controls instead of full abatement. Interim controls are more cost-effective and accessible for property owners, but must be done correctly and maintained for optimal safety.

Features of Robust Lead-Safe Ecosystems

  1. Organizational and individual capacity to drive progress in lead poisoning prevention and intervention efforts.
  2. Long-term, consistent involvement of key organizations to maintain progress and counter the impact of turnover among other stakeholders.
  3. Overcoming ecosystem politics to build a broad, inclusive coalition.
  4. Strong code enforcement mechanisms and support for property owners to promote widespread compliance with health and safety code.
  5. Consistent ecosystem-wide public messaging to promote cohesion and shared understanding among stakeholders and the broader community.

Next Steps

Preventing child lead poisoning is an issue that requires the involvement of many different organizations and groups across all sectors. Strong organizational and resource coordination is needed to eliminate lead hazards in Detroit’s building stock.

Lead-safe stakeholders can use the new lead-safe ecosystem analysis, a series of ecosystem maps, and a lead-safe stakeholder directory to identify new partnerships and mobilize around lead poisoning prevention efforts, while residents can identify existing lead-safe services and resources in the city.

Direct Services and Resources

Detroit residents seeking direct services and resources to prevent or mitigate child lead poisoning can contact the following organizations:

  • CLEARCorps : For educational materials, testing and treatment referrals, and referrals to other programs related to lead hazard reduction and lead poisoning. Phone: (313) 924-4000. Email:
  • Detroit Health Department’s Lead Prevention and Intervention Program: To schedule a lead test for your child, to access case management, including home visits from advocates and nurses, and to receive educational resources. Phone: (313) 876-0133
  • Lead Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Michigan: Provides diagnosis and treatment for children who have lead poisoning. Phone: (313) 745-KIDS
  • Detroit Housing Network: Connects residents to housing programs and services that help reduce paint-based lead hazards, like HRD’s Lead Safe Housing program if you live in an eligible ZIP code.