Government

Wellington Heights housing effort ramps back up, thanks to city infusion of public dollars

Some have questions about the affordable housing program

Affordable Housing Network director Kim Gordon (left) and a construction manager walk Oct. 2, 2017, through Wellington Heights in Cedar Rapids. The Affordable Housing Network had exceeded its initial goal of acquiring 100 properties in the neighborhood for renovation and rental, homeownership incubator or sale. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Affordable Housing Network director Kim Gordon (left) and a construction manager walk Oct. 2, 2017, through Wellington Heights in Cedar Rapids. The Affordable Housing Network had exceeded its initial goal of acquiring 100 properties in the neighborhood for renovation and rental, homeownership incubator or sale. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — An infusion of public dollars will help revive an effort to buy rundown rental properties in Wellington Heights, rehabilitate them while decreasing density and sell or rent them at affordable rates, but some are questioning the plan.

Elected officials Tuesday approved a $225,000 commitment to the Affordable Housing Network as part of the Total Child initiative, which helps children successfully reach adulthood by addressing several factors including making sure they have safe and habitable homes.

“Increase homeownership, decrease density,” Kim Gordon, executive director of the housing network, said in describing the purpose of the initiative. “If it was a house that was turned into a duplex or triplex or fourplex, reducing that density down, going back to single family when we can.”

The Cedar Rapids City Council approved a resolution to distribute $75,000 per year for the next three years as part of its consent agenda, which is reserved for non-controversial and routine matters that get voted on as one package without discussion.

The network has identified 12 to 15 homes for acquisition and rehabilitation over the next three to five years. The hope is to help stabilize a neighborhood that has struggled with crime, dilapidated houses and turnover while providing affordable homes.

The city previously provided $150,000 split over two years.

The network acquired and rehabilitated 111 homes in Wellington Heights between 2012 and 2017, exceeding a goal of 100 homes in five years. This represented more than $12 million in investment.

The number of units was reduced from 167 to 122 during this period, and 23 of the homes have since been sold, Gordon said. The Affordable Housing Network is the landlord for 73 units in Wellington Heights and 829 citywide.

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The acquisition program wound down after fall 2017 until now.

Jennifer Pratt, the city’s community development director, said while the property the housing network continues to own is not on the tax rolls, the program has helped lead to an overall increase in property values in Wellington Heights. It has helped increase surrounding property values and has inspired neighbors to make improvements to their homes, she said.

“There’s that multiplier effect of that investment,” Pratt said. “It is so important that we support these efforts. The work of the Affordable Housing Network leverages city dollars. The private investment in the neighborhood makes those public funds go so much further.”

Some in the neighborhood are not necessarily against the initiative, but have questions — such as why homes are being sold if the mission is to provide permanent, safe housing; why buy more houses to fix when the network already owns properties it could use; and why tax dollars are subsidizing the whole process when the property doesn’t pay taxes.

Bob Grafton, president of the Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association, said as landlords the housing network has had successes and failures, as any landlord would. He noted the network has faced founded nuisance property calls and has room to improve as a property manager. He also questioned the commitment to historic preservation.

“As big as (the housing network) has grown in such a short amount of time, I think other people should also seek answers,” Grafton said.

The housing network and the neighborhood group planned to meet Tuesday evening to review the program.

Council member Dale Todd had raised questions about the initiative outside of the meeting, but said he would not delay the process.

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“There is no doubt in my mind that their investment in the neighborhood has helped generate additional revenue for the district and has stabilized sections of the neighborhood for the best,” Todd said. “All I am asking is for a time to sit down and look at their plan and discuss strategic and concrete steps that we can put in place to move forward.”

In other news:

l A $62,877 contract was awarded to Country Landscapes of Ames to complete a planting project on the Third Avenue Bridge beginning this August and wrapping up in the spring. The contract was significantly less than the $170,000 city estimate. City Engineer Nate Kampman noted the contractor’s estimate of mobilization for the site setup was much less than anticipated.

l City leaders are holding their second annual “ride the districts” bike ride from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The ride check in is at Lot 44 at 11th Avenue and Second Street SE. There will be a shorter 7- mile route and a longer 17-mile route.

The route will highlight bicycle infrastructure and plans for a kayak launch in Czech Village, as well as Tait Cummins Sports Complex, the Shack Tavern, Old MacDonald’s Farm, Prairie Park Fishery and other stops.

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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