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Urban Pharm helping to reverse tide of urban decay

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Urban Pharm Logo

Urban Pharm Logo /Ryan VanderMeer

Dom Groenveld (Left) and Ryan VanderMeer (Right) on the porch of Urban Pharm.

Dom Groenveld (Left) and Ryan VanderMeer (Right) on the porch of Urban Pharm. /Michael Tuffelmire

There are Grand Rapidians who want rental property kept to a minimum on their street because landlords could let their rental properties slip into an unacceptable condition. In fact, absentee landlords had a part in the decline of many neighborhoods that have since been revitalized. Urban Pharm is a property management company that has taken up the gauntlet of urban renewal.

While biking around the city, I have noticed more and more Urban Pharm signs. A fair amount of these signs are in local inner city neighborhoods that are climbing out of the decay. Urban Pharm also publicizes via Craigslist, Twitter, Facebook and their Web site.

Ryan VanderMeer and Patrick Coffin started Urban Pharm together. It is a small operation consisting of two maintenance people and three administrators. Pat is in charge of tenant relations, Dom Groenveld is the leasing agent and Ryan acts as the community liaison. One of Ryan's former business partners asked him if he was interested in managing the administrative, legal and maintenance portions for property owners. In 2007, Urban Pharm moved in to Wealthy Street.

Urban Pharm will not manage properties in a state of decay. A landlord must invest the necessary amount of capital to bring the property up to an acceptable condition.

“We work hard with the city to make sure all our properties are up to code and are helping the property values of the neighborhood,” Ryan said. “We want to keep our properties aestatically pleasing so as not to take away from the beauty of the surrounding properties."


Urban Pharm is located in a green building at 1025 Wealthy SE. As the community liaison, it was important to Ryan that Urban Pharm's office be centrally located in the neighborhood. At the time he was picking a location, The Sparrows Coffee Shop and Meanwhile Bar had just opened.

"If a farm is a rural home where people cultivate the land for the benefit of their families and others, a pharm is an urban home in a neighborhood where new life is growing from the ancient soil for the benefit of the resident and community as a whole," Ryan said.

Urban Pharm is invested in the neighborhood, and in making a point to be visible, Ryan volunteers as the treasurer of the Wealthy Street Business Alliance and is a regular attendee of Weed and Seed meetings. He is also a resident of the East Hills neighborhood. He understands the importance of keeping the city neighborhoods strong.

Urban pioneering is the phenomenon of citizens settling into overlooked areas of the city and helping transform them into strong residential neighborhoods. Urban Pharm is inadvertently assisting this movement in the city.

“The way we run are businesses is based on the fact that we live, work, and shop in the city. We love Grand Rapids and the people; we have a responsibility to be good stewards to the city,” Ryan said.

In a few instances, Urban Pharm has even financially assisted elderly residents on a few properties for landscaping. This is in an effort to stay well connected with the neighbors.

If one of the houses becomes a “problem house” they will meet with neighbors and figure out the best solution in dealing with the situation.

Rental process

To rent from Ubran Pharm, applicants must go through a variety of checks tailored to each individual's situation. All applicants go through a criminal background check, but more importantly, residents must be able to prove a steady or prospective income.

“We want to work with you to make sure we are not setting you up for failure,” Ryan explained.

Their rental rates follow the market rate. However, the economy has been suffering and in some cases, Urban Pharm has worked with qualified tenants to shoulder the burden of utility costs. In certain cases, they have offered graduated rates.

“We are not in the gentrification business,” Ryan affirmed. “We do not want to keep houses vacant, the worst thing for neighborhoods our vacant houses.”

Abandoned properties drastically affect property values in an entire neighborhood, and Urban Pharm has kept their vacancy rate down to 8.5%. According to Rental Property Owners Association of Kent County, the industry average is 19%.

Dealing with tenant problems

There are three main reasons that Ryan is forced to evict tenants. The first is faulting on rent payments. 

Ryan works hard to avoid evicting tenants who are struggling financially. He will refer them to organizations such as the Salvation Army or the Community Rebuilders.

“We are not going to put anyone out of their home unless we have exhausted all other options,” Ryan said.

Drug dealing also results in eviction. Urban Pharm has works closely with the neighborhood police and a majority of the time, the police notify Urban Pharm of unlawful activity in and around the company's properties.

“We have a zero tolerance policy on this; we look out for the families who reside in the community,” Ryan stated.

Lease violations such as noise complaints or animal complaints also lead to eviction.

I talked briefly with Ashley Greenup, a new tenant who was finishing the final details of her rental property. Ashley said she saw the property on Craigslist. She contacted Urban Pharm and they called her back the very next day. “It was a really good experience, they were nice and courteous,” Ashley said.

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