116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A program formed soon after last summer’s derecho to help homeowners repair their damaged property soon will see an infusion of $1 million to assist more households as they still recover from the devastating storm.
Nearly a year since the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho’s hurricane-force winds pummeled the city, Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart and local officials shared plans Thursday to allocate $1 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the PATCH program. The locally administered initiative helps homeowners repair their derecho-damaged homes.
The Cedar Rapids City Council expects to formally approve the allocation at its Aug. 10 meeting.
“We know that there are individuals that have needs at their homes that they cannot meet,” City Manager Jeff Pomeranz said. “Sometimes other programs have not been able to meet those needs as well, and so this really fills the gap. …”
Tracey Achenbach, executive director of the Housing Fund for Linn County, said over $750,000 already has been spent or obligated to projects through the PATCH program. To date, Achenbach said the program has assisted over 200 low- to moderate-income homeowners throughout the county through emergency repairs or forgivable loans.
“The derecho storm only increased the need for assistance that many homeowners were already experiencing as a result of the pandemic,” Achenbach said.
A group of nonprofits that coordinates the program — including Matthew 25, United Way of East Central Iowa, Waypoint Services and others — will decide how to use these new funds, Achenbach said. The organizations will consider things such as how much money may go toward forgivable loans versus grants for immediate assistance, or perhaps providing more aid to owners of mobile homes still grappling with damage.
Although this allocation will come soon, the timeline for spending this money is unclear. Achenbach said the group has discussed when to complete projects already in the queue — but a lack of available contractors is a challenge.
“We're a group of nonprofits with a lot of energy for it, but we're trying to be realistic and know that we're going to be doing projects next year into the next construction season,” Achenbach said.
Pomeranz said these funds will go a long way to meeting community needs. If the need exceeds the allotted funding, he said the city would figure out how to address it.
“We hear the need,” Pomeranz said. “We see the pain that the derecho has caused as well as the impacts on our economy from COVID-19. And again, this isn't about rules and policies and procedures and insurance claims or (Federal Emergency Management Agency) claims or requests to other governments. This is a way we can help on the ground and truly assist the citizens of Cedar Rapids where the needs are.”
This is the first initiative stemming from the city’s $28 million direct allocation from the federal government through the American Rescue Plan.
Advocacy groups — primarily Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Advocates for Social Justice and the Sunrise Movement — have called for the city to dedicate $10 million of the pandemic relief funds to build more affordable housing units.
Cedar Rapids officials have said that, through outreach efforts, the community has indicated housing remains a top need. Affordable housing already was in high demand before the storm struck, and the derecho further diminished the available affordable housing stock.
City officials have said they also plan to allocate relief funds toward west side flood protection, workforce training and revenue loss from the pandemic.
City officials say collaboration with the county through a competitive request for proposals process will be key to allocating future federal relief funds. The county will receive $44 million through the American Rescue Plan.
There is not a timeline set for when a request for proposals would be released, but Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt said she anticipated that would launch by the fall. City and county officials continue to work through how that process and application will operate.
By leveraging the existing expertise and efforts of local nonprofits in this process, Hart said “we'll be able to work as quickly as possible and (make) sure that we're really addressing the most critical needs.”
County launches outreach process
The county announced its first public input forum will be at 5 p.m. Aug. 11 in the Whipple Auditorium at the Cedar Rapids Public Library, 450 Fifth Ave. SE. Additional forums will be announced in the future.
Additionally, the county is developing a survey for residents as part of its outreach process to help identify community needs. The survey will be available at the forums and posted on the county’s website Aug. 11.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker said the hope of the forums is to educate residents while answering questions and hearing ideas. Potential key areas the county could fund include housing and mental health resources as well as small business recovery, Walker said. But he hopes to also create a pathway for income-constrained and underrepresented individuals to access postsecondary education locally.
“This is massive,” Walker told The Gazette. “We want to make sure we get this right and we want to make sure all people have an opportunity to have their voice heard … It’s not a speedy process necessarily, but I can guarantee the end product will be something all residents of Linn County will be proud of.”
Gage Miskimen of The Gazette contributed to this report.
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