It was nice seeing Linda Beltz and Kyle Skogman together this week.
Beltz is a housekeeping supervisor at Mercy Medical Center; Skogman, president of Skogman Homes.
The two were showing off a new home in the city’s old Oak Hill Neighborhood, a place which has long been in decline.
Beltz, who lost her former home to the June flood, was moving into the house that Skogman’s company built.
She couldn’t have looked happier, standing in the home’s hallway, explaining the upstairs laundry area and the great lengths Skogman had gone to make sure she qualified for the mortgage. Skogman was standing there, too, a little misty-eyed.
“We were looking at some way to try to help out,” Skogman explained earlier in the week. “There were so many people who had lost their houses and needed some type of affordable option.”
Beltz’s home is one of 15 homes that Skogman Homes is putting up in one corner of Oak Hill. It is an initiative that is being helped by a creative, generous incentive from City Hall designed to bring Oak Hill back to life.
The City Hall incentive shaves about $40,000 off the cost of the home, so people who wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage on a new home can. Beltz qualified, with the help of disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to become a 58 year old with a new, 30-year mortgage.
“It’s OK,” she says. “I’ll just have to work a few more years.”
Skogman reported that he has been over at the group of new Skogman houses going up in Oak Hill almost daily since construction started just over three months ago. Beltz has been there, too, watching her new house go up, piece by piece.
“From my standpoint, we just felt … when you talk to these people and all they’ve gone through, it was very important that this be a real positive situation for them,” Skogman said.
At the first, it didn’t look like the Skogman idea would work even with the city incentive. Most who lost homes in the flood were of modest incomes or fixed incomes and many owned their older homes outright. Finding people willing to take on a new mortgage and then to qualify for one has not been easy. It still isn’t.
In fact, the city’s Replacement Housing Task Force has credited Skogman with the long hours he’s put in visiting major employers who employ flood victims and explaining his house-building ideas. The new homes aren’t exclusively for flood victims, but to date all that have been sold have been sold to flood victims.
Skogman’s plan is to finish 15 homes here in Oak Hill and then to see what City Hall has in mind next. With the help of incentives, he might build 10, maybe 20 more homes here in the next year or so.
He’s convinced there will be plenty of demand once the city buys out the hundreds and hundreds of flood-wrecked homes that it intends to buy out to make way for new levees and flood walls. The city hopes to have some money to do that this year.
Until then, you might want to drop down around this corner of Oak Hill, along 12th Avenue SE between Ninth and Eighth streets SE. Take a look.
Skogman thinks what is happening here might be a model for what is to come in the other flood-hit neighborhoods in the city.
“I have got to believe that over the next four or five years there’s going to be quite a number of homes taken down,” he said. “And there’s going to be empty blocks of lots (just like in Oak Hill) that are going to need replacement housing.
“And that is certainly different than what builders like us have typically done.
“… It’s been a good experience for us. And, hopefully, as the city moves forward, we’ll be able to share with them things that work and the problems we’ve run into. Because the community obviously is going to need lots of houses built where lots of houses are taken out.”
In recent months, there has been some news coverage about out-of-town developers who are experienced in building affordable housing using a fairly entangled federal tax credit program.
One of three proposed projects has been set aside, another is having difficulty from neighbors and a third is on hold.
“One thing we didn’t want the city or community to think was that it would take somebody from out of town to come in and build replacement housing,” Skogman said. “Having been here for 60 years, and being the largest builder here, it would have been embarrassing.”