The People Who Need Affordable Housing

The U.S. Census tells us that 9,131 Cedar Rapids households, including 2,758 families, have incomes of less than $20,000 a year.

More than a third of these households make less than $10,000 a year, including 911 families.

Clearly, many of these households are not just low-income but living in severe poverty. To be more precise, the Census counted 8,843 people in Cedar Rapids living in poverty, including 2,703 children under the age of 18.

What’s affordable to these households? The answer is simple. None of them can afford to pay more than $500 a month for rent. And that is the top amount.

Those making less can afford even less. A disabled person receiving SSI ($564 monthly) can afford monthly rent of no more than $169. Those making the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour need rents of only $268 a month.

Unfortunately, the local rents are not cooperating. Although the Cedar Rapids’ Market Rent for a one-bedroom unit is $451, a two-bedroom unit costs $595. And the challenge for families is, the more space you need, the greater the cost. A three bedroom can easily be $864, while a four bedroom, if you can find one, might cost $1,044 for a decent unit.

Housing is clearly a huge expense for many local people, and not everyone has the same resources to fall back on when difficulty strikes. One result is homelessness. Our community counted 775 homeless people on January 25, 2005. That was just one day and night – the actual number of people experiencing homelessness in one year would be larger.

The city tries to use government rental assistance programs like Section 8 to prevent homelessness, but the program typically has a two or three-year waiting list and the federal government can always decide to reduce or eliminate the funding for that program. For example, this year big cutbacks are sought.

If we don’t create more decent housing with lower rents, many of our fellow citizens will continue to live in the unsafe or substandard conditions that tend to create new problems rather than support self-sufficiency.

For example, it is estimated that about two-thirds of the homes in Cedar Rapids may have the presence of lead-based paint. This housing stock mainly affects poor children under the age of six, with 10.9 percent of Cedar Rapids children showing evidence of lead-poisoning, compared to 4.4 percent nationally.

So maybe you’re wondering, how does MAHP make low cost, good quality permanent housing more available in Cedar Rapids? Good Question.

How MAHP Helps Them

Because of its non-profit status and success leveraging both public and private investment into housing, MAHP has been able to target difficult housing problems, a niche that is not well-served by any other housing developers.

Many people mistakenly think that MAHP pays poor people’s rents and mortgages, but MAHP does the opposite of that – it raises public and private investment to create housing that people can afford out of their own pockets. In addition, it educates people about how to be good homeowners and renters, and how to save and manage money. Also, all MAHP rental properties have service-connection programs, which promote the tenants’ wise use of existing community resources.

MAHP’s approach to creating housing is comprehensive. This means MAHP helps the community identify a specific housing need, then handles the developing, designing, financing, building, marketing and managing- everything it takes to create attractive housing that fits a modest budget.

Its track record in Cedar Rapids includes 439 housing units, including 390 privately owned and operated apartments and 49 homes for sale. Its total production is 503 apartments and 102 single-family homes, with 140 apartments specifically serving elderly, disabled and special needs populations. However, almost all of this housing was created in the greater Cedar Rapids area.

Over the years, thousands of individuals and families have lived in MAHP’s affordable housing stock, including many households with incomes below the poverty line: single parents, disabled, elderly, minorities, refugees and homeless. In just the past four years 2,940 people have had a safe and decent place to live because of MAHP. This means people can get up in the morning and get their kids to school, come to work ready to get something done, and return home in the evening to prepare for the next day.

MAHP uses housing dollars effectively by creating good quality housing with even lower rents than it did 14 years ago, and that’s in spite of building costs rising! Its housing is reaching more and more people with increasingly modest incomes – for example the William B. Quarton Place apartments which opened in 2003 offers rents of $265 and $350 all utilities included; affordable to people making the minimum wage of $5.15 per hour. In fact, MAHP has received two national excellence awards for these apartments: one for excellence in public/private partnerships, and another for excellence in the use of housing money.

It’s clear that this model of low-cost permanent supportive housing can both prevent homelessness and help move people out of the shelter and transitional system.

The Next Five Years With MAHP

Cedar Rapids needs more safe, decent, low cost housing, and MAHP plans to create more than 200 additional units in the next five years. All MAHP housing is privately owned and tied to economic development goals. MAHP targets affordable housing to underserved areas of greatest need.

For example, in 2005 MAHP will open the Gables (following the “Quarton model”), 20 brand new three and four bedroom apartments that will rent for $485 and $525, all utilities included. This means tenants will be able to pay for their rents using their own paychecks and without government assistance. Amenities include on-site laundry, computer lab, community room and supportive service connection. Just as importantly it is located near bus lines, medical care, daycare, grocery, and employment.

And in 2006 MAHP will begin construction of 20 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless families with children, so they can come “Home To Stay”. This development will provide housing, supervision and wrap-around services to families with disabilities like substance abuse and mental illness.

MAHP will also restart its popular EcoYouth Program, a job training and employment program for at-risk youth 16 to 24 years of age.

How Can You Help

Many people know that MAHP is a non-profit, community organization with an affordable housing mission but what many people don’t know is that all of the government housing money that MAHP successfully competes for goes directly into producing housing stock, not to MAHP’s administrative costs.

It is true that when MAHP is the developer or builder it can earn back modest fees from projects, however these fees are most often paid at the very end of the project, and do not fully compensate MAHP for its time.

Therefore, MAHP has a need for unrestricted private donations, which it uses as working capital during the course of project development, and for organizational overhead.

Donations to MAHP are tax deductible.