Housing leader finds lessons

By Marlene Lucas
Gazette rural affairs writer
Aug. 9, 1999
Mary Schoen-Clark’s life is full of irony at the moment.
She’s the president and chief executive officer of MidAmerica Housing Partner­ ship, a non-profit organization that develops affordable housing. Yet her Cedar Rapids employees have worked in temporary quarters since a tornado ripped through their office in May.
Mary, 38, and her own family are camping out in a rental while she jumps through hoops to finance improvements to an old house she and her husband bought on acreage at the edge of town.
“My organization is homeless, but so am I,” she said, laughing at her predicament. “It has been good for me. I didn’t realize how important MAHP is until I tried to get a construction loan. It’s been a disaster.”
She and Mark Clark, her husband, sold their Tipton house and moved to Cedar Rapids with their hopes set on quickly renovating their newly purchased old house. They applied for a home style loan that would cover all of the renovations, but the process was demanding and involved busy people, such as the architect and contractor. The deadline for the loan’s closing wasn’t met.
Mary and Mark gave up on the home style loan and are working at it from a different angle.
“We have enough drawings together, and I cut out pictures from magazines of what I wanted and stuck them on the drawings. It’s a good thing the appraiser had a sense of humor. He said, ‘I get it. It’s a vision,'” she said.
MAHP has less trouble repairing older houses because it has its own construction workers and a line of credit.
“Our construction guys just go in and do it,” she said. “I get it now. I really get it, how impossible it is. That’s the lesson I had to learn and why I don’t have a house to live in.”
Mary, who likes to read fiction and books on management and philosophy, looks for lessons and connections in her life. The Portland, Ore., native noted that the house where she will eventually live is on Lincoln Heights Drive. The house she thinks of as home is a cabin in Lincoln City, Ore.
The cabin is on a lake two miles from the ocean, which answers her need to get to the shore at least once a year.
“My parents bought it when I was 12. I spent a lot of time walking on the beach. It has a spiritual and calming effect on me. And I like clam chowder,” she said.
She won’t fully concentrate on the renovations at the house on Lincoln Heights Drive until she has her organization settled in new quarters.
“Then my house will be my hobby for the next year,” she said. “My philosophy has been ‘What you need will come to you,’ and most recently, I’ve added ‘even if you don’t like it much.’ ”