116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Last summer’s derecho wreaked havoc on Willis Dady Homeless Services’ initial plans for a new workforce hub and supportive housing units for clients, but after months of working to chart a path forward, officials Thursday shared their vision to break the cycle of homelessness.
The agency has raised about $3.25 million for its $3.42 million Willis Dady Works project, which will renovate two old buildings at a central location off First Avenue NW to provide an Employment Hub and supportive housing for clients. Officials say the mission behind this project is to empower people experiencing homelessness to become self-sufficient through short-term work and affordable rental housing.
“For an individual experiencing homelessness, just an opportunity for them to lift themselves out of that situation and gain the skills necessary to succeed on their own is incredibly important, and that’s where we really look at giving someone a hand up,” Willis Dady Development Director Emily Zimmon said.
The Employment Hub at the old McLanahan building, 800 First Ave. NW, will provide workforce training, one-on-one case management, direct employment and a social enterprise warehouse to help those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. Existing staff will relocate there, and new staff will be added when employment grows.
Fewer than 40 percent of Willis Dady clients are employed when they enter services, according to the agency, as they face barriers to regularly attending work ranging from lack of transportation to housing or family crises.
Zimmon said this will allow staff to work with individuals to teach them skills to be successful on their own.
“If we’re able to teach those skills and the trainings and then actually put those skills into use within our social enterprise, that’s what’s going to allow someone to become successful in employment and therefore self-sufficient,” Zimmon said. “If you’re missing that foundation, it’s very difficult to overcome your barriers.”
The old Chandler Pump Co. building at 707 B Ave. NW will be reconstructed into 13 apartments of varying sizes to provide a safe space for individuals and families leaving homelessness. These supportive housing units serve those with multiple barriers — typically both a physical and mental health illness or disability, previous or current substance abuse disorder and a breakdown of support systems such as friends and family.
All tenants pay monthly rent, which is capped at 30 percent of their income, and work with a Willis Dady case manager the whole time they are in the program. The case manager will be a full-time employee who works and lives on-site in one of the units to manage activities and support clients who live there.
Willis Dady Executive Director Alicia Faust said from 2017 to 2019, 81 families in Cedar Rapids were flagged as being in need of long-term supportive housing. That means these new units will be in high demand.
“We know that this program is important, and we decided to do what we do best, which is innovation and prioritizing our clients and doing what’s best for them, which is what led to Willis Dady Works,” Faust said. “So instead of saying that this is something that’s missing, we can’t do it, we decided to see how we can do it.”
Both buildings sustained damage in the derecho’s hurricane-force winds last summer, upending original plans for the project.
Cedar Rapids City Council member Scott Olson, the project coordinator for Willis Dady Works, said the workforce space was planned to go on the first floor of the Chandler Pump building and housing units would have occupied the second floor. But the derecho destroyed the facility’s top floor.
Now, Olson said the Employment Hub space is expected to be ready to use within two to three months. The housing units in the Chandler Pump building will take more time to complete, Olson said, but should be ready no later than early 2022.
Project funders continued to support the project, and the historic site remained eligible for tax credits, Olson said. These organizations and individuals all believe in this project and understand the need to end homelessness.
“We want (individuals experiencing homelessness) to transition from the transition housing, and come out and have a good life in the future,” Olson said. “That’s what this facility is going to do.”
Hall-Perrine Foundation: $800,000
Linn County grant: $25,000
Cedar Rapids grant: $50,000
Brownfield tax credits: $550,000
St. Pius Church: $80,000
John and Dyan Smith: $100,000
Mike and Ester Wilson: $50,000
Scott and Penny Olson: $25,000
Federal Home Bank Loan: $700,000
Frontier Co-Op: $75,000
McLanahan Co.: $25,000
Knox Foundation: $10,000
Alliant Energy: $50,000
AEGON Transamerica: $150,000
Individual donations: $33,000
Cargill Cedar Rapids: $67,500
Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust: $25,000
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