One woman goes from Hawthorne Hills in Cedar Rapids to waiting list for Cedar Valley Townhomes

Wendy Schaffer, 33, isn’t working right now. And the single mother of an eight-year-old daughter doesn’t plan to work. Instead, Schaffer, who suffers from panic attacks and anxiety, said she is waiting to be on Social Security. “I know it sounds bad,” she said, “but sometimes the more you help yourself, the less you can get (from the government.)” Schaffer has been living in her apartment on Aossey Lane on the southwest side of Cedar Rapids since last February. She lived in Hawthorne Hills in Cedar Rapids for four years previously. Schaffer said she was frustrated after waiting two years on a list for Section 8 housing. She’s on the waiting list now for Cedar Valley Townhomes. Affordable housing has a bad name, Schaffer added. While living in Hawthorne Hills, she said someone tried to break in to her apartment while she and her daughter were inside. When she and her daughter were outside their home, someone tried to break down the door. Schaffer said she wants to see more affordable housing options for families and in safe neighborhoods. Kim Gordon, property manager at the Affordable Housing Network, said Schaffer likely has a Section 8 voucher. These vouchers are tied to a specific person, Gordon said. As long as an individual qualifies and follows the rules, and a landlord participates, the individual can live anywhere in Linn and Benton counties, she said. Schaffer is just one of the people I’ve met over the past month as I’ve been looking at the quality and availability of affordable housing in Cedar Rapids. She is one of the faces of a population that represents a…

Lessons learned so far about affordable housing in Cedar Rapids

For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking at the importance of having an affordable place to live in Cedar Rapids. I’ve spoken with city officials, members of the Affordable Housing Network and to affiliated organizations about the growing need in our community. One of the things I’ve heard repeatedly is the importance of collaboration amongst organizations to best serve the families and individuals in need. How can organizations work together to best meet the needs of those searching for affordable housing? As Carrie Slagle told me, every shelter in the area serves different people. Slagle is the director of homeless and housing services at Waypoint, which serves women, children and families. There is also Four Oaks, which works to help children become successful adults. Both of these organizations work with the Affordable Housing Network to help people who are in need of a safe, low-cost place to live. I’ve also heard people note the importance of cooperation and forming relationships. For example, at Waypoint, the organization is in the business of providing people with places to live. Landlords, as Slagle noted, are in the business of filling units. It makes sense for Waypoint to work with landlords to help ensure the needs of area families and individuals are being adequately met. There is a significant tie between the demand for affordable housing and the economic climate in the region. If the region is doing well economically, families are more likely to have secure employment and be able to afford housing. Slagle also wants to see organizations use the resources they have in the best possible way to provide more...

Helping a city thrive through variety of Affordable Housing options

For Michael and Kathy Moser, their new home on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids was a fresh start. The couple, originally from Arizona, moved to Cedar Rapids a year and a half ago from Phoenix. Once in Cedar Rapids, they first landed in a home on Park Avenue they were sharing with a handful of other people. “We were renting with other people so we wanted a place of our own and we decided to stay in Cedar Rapids and make this our home,” said Kathy, 44, a manager in training at the Salvation Army in Cedar Rapids. Kathy began looking for rent to own options in the community. She discovered the Affordable Housing Network and soon connected with Kathie Pennetta, a community liaison at the organization. The Mosers are one example of a family in need of safe, affordable housing to live in in Cedar Rapids. They say the city’s ability to meet the growing demand for affordable housing is critical to the future success of the region. Even before she saw inside the house, Kathy knew 1531 Fifth Ave. SE was going to be the right place to call home for her and Michael. That’s because 1531 is the address of her grandmother’s house in Phoenix. “I was like, ‘That’s the one! This is it,’ and I hadn’t even seen the inside yet,” Kathy said. “Then we came in and I was like… ‘I love it; it’s beautiful.'” Their three-bedroom, one-bathroom house is decorated with “butterflies and Jesus,” as Kathy said. In the family room, there are two framed butterflies by the entryway. There is also a...

Affordable Housing Network helping meet growing demand for housing across Cedar Rapids

Amidst the push for downtown development and more retail and entertainment options throughout the city of Cedar Rapids, there is another area of growing concern. That is the increasing demand for more low-income, affordable housing options to meet the needs of the city’s residents. In 2012, 1,158 residents were served through the Affordable Housing Network in Cedar Rapids, said Joe Lock, its executive director. A year later, that number rose to 1,338 residents. “Affordable housing is always in great demand,” Lock said. “The Flood in 2008 didn’t do anything to lessen demand; it increased it.” As demand increases for affordable housing options, so is the number of minorities being served. Experts say the area needs to offer diverse housing options to meet growing demand and ensure the city’s ability to retain employees and residents going forward. Growing demand Of the Affordable Housing Network’s 800 units, exactly 98 percent are occupied, Lock said. “Ninety-eight percent is basically 100 percent full,” he said, factoring in two percent of families that are moving at any given time. Lock said the organization budgets for 96 percent occupancy. Occupancy has been at 98 percent since the start of the fiscal year last July, he added. “The demand for affordable housing is as great as ever,” Lock said. “The need for affordable housing for working class families is definitely the area of greatest need.” The increasing demand for affordable housing – and how to address the problem – is a major focal point of the upcoming “Building an Inclusive Community, one neighborhood at a time” summit on April 23. “There’s been community surveys that have...
Inside Rehabbed Affordable Housing Network, Inc. Houses

Inside Rehabbed Affordable Housing Network, Inc. Houses

The Affordable Housing Network, Inc., AHNI,  is on a mission. Eventually they plan to transform 35% of the properties in an 18 block section in the heart of Wellington Heights. They are remodeling, restoring and rebuilding houses with the long term goal of bringing the homeownership rate from 40% to over 60%. This should create a neighborhood that is stable and healthy. They’ve already purchased 80 properties and plan to purchase over 100. But what happens to a house after AHNI gets it hands on it? We got the chance to tour two properties and find out. One of AHNI’s goals is to make houses like this large four bedroom one affordable for low income families. They have a rental program called the Homeownership Incubator Program that transfers a portion of your rent into an escrow account that can be used for a down payment. This house at 1538 4th Ave SE will rent for $800 a month. You can see what the house used to look like on Google Streetview. Spaces like living rooms and dining rooms are kept as intact as possible to maintain the charm and character of the houses. Kitchens and bathrooms, where needs and expectations have changed dramatically in the past 100 years, are brought up to modern expectations. This is a half bath added to the ground floor level of 1538 4th Ave SE. The original iron cover and marble floor on this fireplace were saved. The green paint was the choice of a previous homeowner. AHNI does an incredible amount of work to each house they rehab. Kitchens, bathrooms, the HVAC system and...