A New Spring, A New Focus On Abandoned Homes

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Once the spring thaw hits, all of the senses are apparent in pockets of Cedar Rapids, especially where the Flood of 2008 has left behind empty lots and, on occasion, abandoned homes.

Lance Wild lives in the Time Check neighborhood in what appears to be the only occupied home on his block. Look to the left, see 1st Street NW and the Cedar River. Look elsewhere, see at least three abandoned homes within 500 feet.

"It's just empty down here now," said Wild, a lifelong resident of Cedar Rapids who has only lived in this area since earlier this year. "We're pretty much the only people left standing down here and it's a shame to look out the window and everything is empty."

Empty but boarded up homes with the occasional feral cats peering around the edges.

"At least knock 'em down or demo 'em and start some rebuilding down here," said Wild.

Knocking down houses has been a constant throughout parts of the Time Check and Czech Village neighborhoods on the city's west side for the past five years.

Yet a few dozen houses remain, standing but unoccupied and an eyesore throughout the city.

"I would say that most of them that have sat for six years need to be torn down at this point," said Clint Twedt-Ball, director of Matthew 25, the group that has worked on rehabbing hundreds of flood-damaged homes since the flood. "Our point is that they detract from property values in the whole neighborhood and we just want to get them down."

Twedt-Ball, city representatives and others met on Friday afternoon at the Matthew 25 offices on 3rd Avenue SW to try and formulate a next step of action after more than 1,000 residential post-flood demolitions.

"We are dedicated to pursuing properties that devalue neighborhoods, whether it's a flooded property or any property," said Emily Muelbach, city spokesman who attended the meeting. "We want to know about it."

This is a critical point as abandoned homes dot the city, from the west side to the revitalized New Bohemia neighborhood, where a handful of boarded-up properties are just steps from where people shop and spend their evenings.

"The city has done a really good job," said Twedt-Ball. "At this point, I think it comes down to the people who actually own these. Where are they at?"

One prime example can be in the 600 block of H Avenue NW. Online city records show three homes were demolished on that block but a boarded up home, with shattered windows, still stands as a neighborhood is trying to rebound.

"As the weeds start popping up and the animals start moving about and the smell comes back from the flood, it definitely gets more pronounced," said Twedt-Ball.
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