116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The city of Cedar Rapids will use about $1.39 million in federal funds to renovate a vacant property in Wellington Heights and create up to 25 affordable residential units.
The new housing, in the former Colonial Centre at 1500 Second Ave. SE, then will be turned over to a nonprofit to own, operate and maintain.
The City Planning Commission last summer narrowly opposed recommending rezoning the site for public use when the city proposed turning the building into a community resource center and emergency shelter. The idea met with opposition from neighbors who feared such a facility would attract homeless individuals without proper support services.
Since then, city officials have worked to find a use more suitable to the neighborhood.
The Colonial building has been vacant for about 10 years, Housing Services Manager Sara Buck said, and people have been breaking into it and scrapping copper and wire.
“It’s in disrepair, to say the least,” Buck said.
Because Cedar Rapids is an “entitlement community” for the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city received a one-time allocation of $1.39 million through the HOME Investment Partnership Program-American Rescue Plan to reduce homelessness and increase housing stability.
The Cedar Rapids City Council this week approved allocating the funds.
Community Development Director Jennifer Pratt told The Gazette the project is estimated to cost roughly $5 million, with the balance covered by another federal Community Development Block Grant and $1.5 million in ARPA pandemic funds.
The housing project will have a minimum 15-year “affordability” period, which Buck said “gives people the opportunity to come back and ask for additional federal funding if there’s a need for maintenance” at the end of those 15 years.
Buck said the city will seek a nonprofit to operate the new housing in a request for proposals.
Renderings of the rehabbed building show the front door would drop to ground level with the sidewalk to make the property comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Buck said city staffers have taken the plan before numerous groups for feedback, including the Historic Preservation, Civil Rights and Affordable Housing commissions, as well as the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association.
“We want (the neighborhood) to be aware, understanding that this project is happening in their community or in their neighborhood and wanted to make sure that it is the right fit for that neighborhood,” Buck said.
Pratt said neighbors also will help select a name for the rehabilitated building.
She noted 15th Street SE beside the building has a high level of pedestrian traffic, so “really anchoring that and stabilizing that is a huge plus for that neighborhood.”
2 other social service projects
As part of the city’s $28 million allocation of federal American Rescue Plan Act COVID-19 stimulus funds, the council also approved spending $112,000 for two additional social service projects, in a joint application process with Linn County.
The council in February signed off on $3 million in ARPA funding for 14 affordable housing and social service projects that will create new housing, expand food access, promote youth engagement and support immigrants.
The new initiatives are:
Senior services: One project would be a life enrichment center. A group of residents formed a 501(c)3 nonprofit to advocate for a senior center and programming.
A one-time allocation of $32,000 would support its activities through 2026, Pratt said.
That includes the creation of a communication network of email and mailing addresses, gathering information on existing and upcoming programs and events, providing an informational kiosk at Lindale Mall for brochures and newsletters, and coordination with the city and partner agencies on events to encourage socialization.
One of the group members also will be on a steering committee to study the feasibility of a permanent senior or multigenerational center. Outreach for that is slated to begin this fall. Adoption of the city’s first Age-Friendly Action Plan this summer would be the “catalyst” for this endeavor, Pratt said.
Afghan refugee support: The city also will use $80,000 in ARPA funds from its first-round allocation to meet about half of Kirkwood Community College’s $161,000 request for additional English language classes to help meet the needs of an influx of around 250 Afghan refugees.
Of 73 refugees tested for English language skills, 49 tested at the lowest level and none at the highest level. Between 70 and 80 percent of those assessed also are not literate in their native language of Dari or Pashto, according to supplemental information Kirkwood provided.
Cedar Rapids is looking for Linn County to fund the remainder of Kirkwood’s request, but if the county opts not to fund the rest, the city will consider doing so in its second-round of ARPA allocations later this spring.
Cedar Rapids also has earmarked $5.1 million in ARPA funds for west-side flood control, $1 million for the PATCH home-repair program, up to $750,000 for nonprofits that lost hotel-motel tax funds during the pandemic, and $585,000 for workforce initiatives, including tuition grants with Kirkwood.
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