The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

City and state celebrate funding that will help put people into 177 new residences by year’s end

In CDBG, City Hall on July 9, 2009 at 1:09 pm

Sometimes a city needs a dog-and-pony show.

At least the case could be made for the one — for the news conference — on Thursday in which state and local officials met in a new housing development in northwest Cedar Rapids to celebrate a significant infusion of federal dollars designed to help build 177 owner-occupied residences here by the end of the year.
Of the 177, 94 will be single-family homes and 83 will be condominiums.

In total, the Iowa Department of Economic Development and the Rebuild Iowa Office are steering about $7.5 million in federal Community Development Block Grant funds into Cedar Rapids for the new construction. Statewide including in Cedar Rapids, a total of $17 million is being spent on the program, which will result in a total of 343 new owner-occupied residences, Mike Tramontina, director of the state economic development agency, noted at Thursday’s news conference.

Lt. Gen. Ron Dardis, who heads up the Rebuild Iowa Office, said the homebuilding is part disaster recovery and part economic stimulus that will fill a need for affordable housing in Cedar Rapids that existed before the June 2008 flood and exists even more now.

Those purchasing the 177 new residents can qualify to receive up to 30 percent of the cost of the home or condominium as down payment assistance on new homes worth $180,000 or less. The new owners must have a household income at or below the average median household income and they must be able to support a mortgage on the new residence.

Dardis said the program’s down payment assistance will open up some of the homes to those who lost residences in the flood, and as a result, will allow some flood victims to regain “a sense of neighborhood.” It’s hard to measure the extra value of that, Dardis said.

Thursday’s news conference on Moose Drive NW in the Wilderness Estates Edition took place almost directly in front of the basement of Rick Davis’ new house.

Davis, an active member of the Northwest Neighbors, lost his house in the Time Check Neighborhood, and he said he Thursday he would not be preparing to move into a new house on the edge of town except for the down payment assistance in the program that was being celebrated on Thursday.

A lover of the Time Check Neighborhood, Davis said he did not want to live there now because he didn’t trust the river.

“I’m out in the country now,” he joked. “I’ve got corn instead of the river.”

Ben Busch spoke at the news conference and said the program was allowing him, wife Jenna and their two young children to move out of apartments and into not just their first house, but a new house.

City Manager Jim Prosser noted that 20 local builders are involved in building the 177 new residences that are part of the down payment assistance program. He called the funding program a “signature” one and he said it has been well-designed to provide needed housing in an efficient way.

Prosser pointed to a January 2009 survey of the city’s flood-recovery housing needs, and he said the 177 new residences plus another 20 new homes being build in the Oakhill Jackson Neighborhood have put the city well on the way to meeting a goal of seeing 300 or so owner-occupied residences built as part of the city’s flood recovery.

Local home builders already have been inquiring about the prospects of a second round of funding for the program, and the state’s Tramontina did not rule out such a prospect. He said it would depend on money and actual housing demand in Cedar Rapids.

Kyle Skogman, president of Skogman Homes, left Tramontina with an idea. Skogman said the state of Iowa should consider similar housing incentives in the years ahead as the city buys out and demolishes flood-damaged houses and has lots, in some instances, on which new homes can be built.

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