Mon. Aug 8, 1994
By Lonnie Zingula
Housing plan for C.R. SoHo
Buildings to be renovated stressing affordable space
Osada, a Czech word for settlement, will soon mean affordable housing, culture and downtown rejuvenation in Cedar Rapids.
The Metro Area Housing Program (MAHP) — a fledgling, non-profit, private community housing agency — has launched a project to revitalize a south east city block bounded by Ninth and 10th avenues and Second and Third streets.
Deteriorating warehouse space will be renovated into spacious apartments that will make ideal artist studios, said MAHP President Mary Schoen-Clark. ”The views are incredible,” she said.
GOVERNMENT funding to ward the project will keep the apartments within reach of downtown workers who earn $8 to $9 an hour and would prefer to commute by foot, noted Renaissance Group Director Lee Clancey. Envisioned as a Cedar Rapids version of New York’s SoHo district, the project will also contribute to an emerging “cultural corridor” along Third Street SE between downtown and Czech Village, she said.
“It’s a real exciting thing to be happening for downtown and for affordable housing in this community,” Clancey said.
By providing additional housing near the city’s center, the project will help combat criticism that Cedar Rapids’ down town is not a 24-hour community, said architect Herb Stone.
“A frequently heard complaint about the downtown area is that it has no life after 5 p.m. and that it has too many vacant spaces,” Stone said. ” The missing ingredient in the Cedar Rapids downtown is housing.”
Phase one of the project involves renovating the former Witwer Grocer Co. warehouse at Ninth Avenue and Third Street SE. The aging building, originally used as a warehouse by Me Too super market founder Weaver Witwer, has been vacant for several years.
MAHP has negotiated an option to purchase the property for an undisclosed price from Witwer’s former building manager Ollie Henderson and his wife, Anna. The Hendersons sweetened the deal by donating the former Monroe School property next door to the warehouse along 10th Avenue SE between Second and Third streets.
Though highly speculative due to its badly deteriorated state, MAHP hopes to take down warehouse space built around the school and renovate the building into a community center. The building, constructed in 1873, was Cedar Rapids’ third permanent school. It was abandoned in 1923 and sold to Witwer.
Eventually, MAHP also hopes to purchase the warehouse at Ninth Avenue and Second Street SE now occupied by Hawkeye Seed Co. It too would be converted to apartments, providing up to 124 units between the two buildings.
MAHP recently received a $1 million federal grant to apply toward the $5 million Witwer warehouse renovation, the bulk of which will be financed through tax credits and bonds. The city also will be asked to allocate $300,000 in federal HOME funds to the project, Schoen-Clark said.
The government funding will keep rents affordable — about $450 monthly for a two-bedroom apartment, she said. Tenants must earn no more than 60 percent of the local median income — $25,980 for a family of four — to qualify for one of the 65 apartments to be available for occupancy in the fall of 1995.
THOUGH AFFORDABLE housing projects are usually equated with the poor, availability can make it an issue for people of all income levels, Clancey noted. Cedar Rapids has a vacancy rate of 1.6 percent for rental units — well below the national standard — which makes securing housing difficult even for those who earn a decent income, she said.
Schoen-Clark added that there are two types of affordable housing projects. Typically, it involves subsidies to make rents affordable. Otherwise, as in Osada, it means providing a more affordable project than is avail able elsewhere.
MAHP has been active — and successful — in the development of affordable housing for low- and middle income families since its incorporation in 1992. The average community housing agency makes four units available in its first year, Schoen-Clark said. MAHP, by contrast, has 153 rental units completed or under construction, and plans for another 121 are being developed.
“You can see, the magnitude is immense,” she said.
The old Monroe School, Cedar Rapids’ third permanent school, may be renovated into a community center under Osada, a project by the Metro Area Housing Program to rejuvenate the city block bounded by Ninth and 10th avenues and Second and Third streets. Phase one of the project involves renovating the former Witwer Grocer Co. warehouse into apartments.
“it’s a real exciting thing to be happening for downtown and for affordable housing in this community.”
href=”http://www.cedarrapids.org/Content/Community-Development/Core-Districts/Downtown.aspx” title=”Renaissance Group”>Renaissance Group
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