Let’s put MAHP on firmer footing

Tom Aller, executive vice president of 2001 Development Corporation, is chairman of the board of directors of MidAmerica Housing Partnership.
The Gazette, Sept. 12, 1999

We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity. The stock market has provided many Americans with an astounding increase in net worth. Inflation is level and employment is high. Yet many of our families continue to struggle to accumulate enough capital to purchase their first home.

In the ’50s, typically, the family structure consisted of a working father and a stay-at- home mom. The job market was stable and pay was good. The first major investment a young couple made was usually a house, and what an investment it was. In the decades following World War II, real estate values rose at an astonishing rate. The appreciation on that first home made buying a larger, nicer home easy and practically painless. During the past 20 years, however, things changed. While housing costs continued to track upward, wages began to track downward. Today, a single income no longer provides enough for a young family to make the down payment on a house. The typical ’90s family is built around two working partners, and even then high costs often make home ownership prohibitive.

The situation is serious, not only for hard-working young families who find themselves shut out of the home market, but for homeowners and renters alike. The economy of Eastern Iowa depends on jobs, filled by workers, who need homes. As the humorist Kin Hubbard said, “The fellow who owns his home is always coming out of a hardware store.” And the families who live in these homes support our entire retail structure.

Given the change in circumstances, a clear need existed for a change in home funding. Perhaps the most successful response to this need was the creation of MAHP, the MidAmerica Housing Partnership (formerly Metro Area Housing Program) in 1992.

MAHP is a private non-profit organization that assists first-time homebuyers to overcome funding hurdles. Working with local non-profit and for-profit groups, MAHP initiates new and innovative finance options. While it is not a government agency, it arranges and coordinates available government resources for the benefit of our community.

Initially, MAHP concentrated its efforts on improving neighborhoods within the city of Cedar Rapids, gaining valuable experience in restoring distressed properties and returning them to the tax base. In addition to helping keep a lid on property taxes, these efforts helped bolster neighborhood confidence, reverse urban blight and improve property values.

Success in these areas has led to dozens of initiatives where MAHP has played an active role in developing and managing a specific project. Included in this list are the preservation and stabilization of the Brown Apartments, the 16th Street SE projects, the Agin Court, development, the Marion Elderly/Hilltop Manor facility, and the South Side initiative.

Perhaps the most visible of these efforts is the Osada project. Using a million-dollar grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), MAHP turned an old warehouse, standing abandoned and forlorn between downtown and the Czech Village area, into a distinctive 67-unit apartment complex. Called Osada — a Czech word meaning “community” —- the complex serves as a centerpiece for the neighborhood, with the potential to attract new homes, businesses and leisure opportunities to a “cultural corridor” being developed on Third Street SE.

Not surprisingly, small towns, too, are turning to MAHP for help in solving their own housing problems. Like their big city cousins, many small town officials are interested in attracting new and suitable industries. In most cases, housing needs in small towns are even more acute than those in Cedar Rapids. Small towns have the capability and, more importantly, the room to accommodate commuters. Many big city workers prefer small town living.

But vacant lots without houses won’t do. MAHP is currently working to turn empty lots into bustling neighborhoods in 10 small towns in Eastern Iowa, while others are looking on with interest.

It’s important to remember that MAHP is more than just a resource for generating solutions to housing problems. In the few years since its founding, MAHP has become a significant generator of jobs and new money, two factors essential for the growth of the local economy. A study by the Chamber of Commerce found that dollars generated by MAHP turn over five times before leaving the community. Its impact on the community through 1997 is estimated at nearly $160 million.

Given this look at what MAHP is, keep in mind what it isn’t: It isn’t tax supported. It is not a government agency. It is a private, non-profit organization and, as such, it needs local funds for support. The biggest problem MAHP faces is lack of capital.

This month, a capital campaign has begun to support this valuable local resource. Individuals, businesses and industry will be asked to help. Please include us in your budget plans. Your gift to MAHP will help those who are working, yet struggling, and at the same time it will help your company and our ever-growing economy.

Join us in celebrating housing issues here in Cedar Rapids from 2:30 to 4.30 p.m. next Friday at a block party between Ninth and 10th Streets on 10th Avenue SE. Visit two homes that have been constructed by MAHP and learn more about how our community is addressing housing issues from Mayor Lee Clancey and Iowa state Senate President Mary E. Kramer. It will be a great opportunity to understand the importance of creating and maintaining housing options for families in our neighborhoods.