Cedar Rapids Four Oaks Now Owns More Than 60 Properties in Wellington Heights
By Jillian Petrus, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Rebuilding a neighborhood one home at a time.
It started with the demolition of the Bever Avenue SE apartment complex on May 17th. Residents called the building a hot spot for criminal activity. Cedar Rapids Police reported answering 182 calls at the complex in one year.
The non-profit group Four Oaks played a big role in buying and demolishing the Bever Avenue building. To date, the organization has purchased 43 homes in the neighborhood for remodeling. They also have management contracts with another 23 properties
Right now, only 49% of residents in Wellington Heights own their property.
Four Oaks CEO, Jim Ernst, says his goal is to have 65-70% homeownership in the neighborhood. He says he’s committed to changing Wellington Heights for the better.
"Over the next six to eight months, we will have totally rehabbed thirty-five homes and our intent is to rehab another thirty-five next year,” Ernst said.
Four Oaks tells us the properties will likely become rent-to-own homes for families. For the first time in years, Ernst says, neighbors are optimistic.
"I think they're also believing it's possible that the neighborhood can turn around after efforts in the past haven't been so successful,” he says.
But one big issue still plagues the neighborhood. Rundown rentals with absent landlords.
"Some rent these properties and don't go back for weeks or months even to see what's going on there,” said Wellington Heights Neighborhood Association President, Terry Bilsland.
City manager Jeff Pomeranz talked openly about this problem back in early May. We called his office to check the progress on addressing the rentals, but were told no formal ordinances are ready for council consideration.
"That's one of the biggest steps that needs to be done by the city,” says Bilsland, “ reign in some land lords who don't care what goes on their property."
The affordable housing project is also tied into the countywide "total child" program. Ernst tells us at least 100-150 kids in that program will be living in Wellington Heights next year. The program focuses on building a stable home environment. It also provides support for the children as they go through middle school and into high school.
Ernst believes a better future is coming for the neighborhood. One that improves the lives of children, families and residents devoted to the area.
"If we get there in two years or need a third year, we are going to turn this neighborhood around."
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