Cedar Rapids initiative seeks to improve Wellington Heights neighborhood

It’s Wellington Heights’ turn — especially for the children who live there.

This old core neighborhood in southeast Cedar Rapids has combated a perception problem for more than 15 years as being a place where bad behavior surfaces and police cars converge.

Terry Bilsland, the president of the well-established Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association and a 44-year resident of the neighborhood, has protested for years that his neighborhood is much better than the stigma attached to it.

But Bilsland this week said even he was surprised after the flood of 2008 with how few flood victims in need of replacement homes came looking for a new life on high ground in Wellington Heights.

“When the flood happened, we had some real good houses over here for sale, but we didn’t hardly attract any flood people,” he said. “There’s something wrong when that happens, when you have good housing and they don’t even come and look.”

Perceptions and neighborhoods don’t change on their own, but they can change with some attention, affection and thoughtful, targeted investment, said Jim Ernst, CEO of the non-profit Four Oaks children and family services agency with the Affordable Housing Network Inc. as one of its subsidiaries.

Thursday afternoon, Ernst, Bilsland and others will stand in front of an emptied, boarded-up 12-plex jammed into the Wellington Heights neighborhood at 1415 Bever Ave. SE to announce an ambitious housing and neighborhood-transformation initiative for an 18-block piece of the neighborhood between Washington and Sixth avenues and between 14th and 19th streets SE.

It’s called the TotalChild Wellington Heights Initiative, founded on the bedrock belief that the quality of housing and of a neighborhood matter to the formation of a child just as the quality of the family and the child’s school do.