CommonBond wants to be a community asset

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Some have questioned the motives behind the Crestwood Ridge property that CommonBond Communities proposes to develop on the northwest corner of Crestwood Drive and Edgewood Road.

The history of CommonBond, our mission and goals explain why we are so tenaciously pursuing the Crestwood Ridge project, despite the fear some have in reaction to it. We know Crestwood could meet a local need and become a community asset, not a detraction.

CommonBond was created in 1971 by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis as part of its social justice program. We are now an independent nonprofit with a mission to build stable homes, strong futures and vibrant communities. We believe every person should have a dignified, affordable home — a home that supports independence and advancement in a flourishing community.

Today, CommonBond is the largest owner and operator of affordable housing with supportive services in the region. We operate 110 properties in 52 cities throughout Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, including the Meadows in Cedar Rapids. Over 10,000 people, including 2,500 children, call a CommonBond community their home. We are proud of our legacy and reputation within the communities we serve, including some cities that originally had reservations about what affordable housing would mean for them. Some of our greatest fans were once among these skeptics.

The Crestwood Ridge community could be a valuable addition of high-quality homes to Cedar Rapids. This unique housing community would provide a mix of market rate apartments, those for people with low and moderate incomes, and those for the formerly homeless. It could create a community within a community and represents the future of inclusive housing. Our partnership with Cedar Rapids’ own Willis Dady will enhance our ability to provide supportive services for the people most in need. Five of the 45 apartment homes would be designated for families experiencing homelessness. Crestwood Ridge will also provide housing opportunity for many recent college graduates, administrative employees, workers in consumer stores — Cedar Rapids’ vital workforce and young families.

The location of Crestwood Ridge also advances the concept of bringing affordable housing into neighborhoods where there is both need and opportunity. Currently there are fewer affordable housing properties located on the west side of the Cedar River than on the east side. The Crestwood Ridge location will add new geographically disbursed affordable housing to a city with less than 2 percent rental housing vacancy. In Cedar Rapids more than 50 percent of renters are currently paying more than 30 percent of their income toward housing.

Crestwood Ridge would be the first development of its type awarded federal low income housing tax credits flowing through the Iowa Finance Authority (IFA). CommonBond uses IFA-awarded tax credits to build new construction projects, just like all other developers. If the credits awarded for this proposal are not used for Crestwood Ridge, they will be reallocated elsewhere around the state, creating jobs and housing opportunity in other cities.

The tax credits are not valuable themselves to CommonBond but are instead sold to private investors, several of which are headquartered in Cedar Rapids, to generate funds for construction. As part of developing the property, CommonBond earns a developer fee which is consistent with program and industry parameters. We use this to fund operations, pay for services for residents in the long-term homeless units, and to invest in future affordable housing.

If the Cedar Rapids City Council steps up to approve Crestwood Ridge, I am confident, based on our decades of experience, that CommonBond can ensure that it becomes a point of pride and community resource. I do hope that we get that opportunity.

• Deidre Lal Schmidt is president and CEO of CommonBond Communities

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