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Private-Sector Grant Helps with Flood-Recovery in Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa Uncle Sam has contributed some $32 million to the city of Cedar Rapids to provide incentives for the construction of some 600 single-family homes to replace more than 1,000 residential units lost in the 2008 flood.

The city of Cedar Rapids also has used local city dollars to provide similar incentives 25 percent of a new home's cost for those qualified to meet affordable-housing income guidelines on more than 30 additional flood-recovery homes.

Now, a national charitable effort from Wells Fargo Bank has added some new private-sector money to the home-building effort, too.

And on Friday, Jenny Barnett, a 32-year-old single mother of a 4-year-old daughter by the name of Ella, moved into a new home in the Harrison Elementary School neighborhood in northwest Cedar Rapids thanks, in part, to the help from Wells Fargo.

The staff of the Affordable Housing Network Inc., one of the local flood-recovery efforts to which Wells Fargo has steered its donation, moved Barnett and her daughter from her Hiawatha apartment to her new home in an hour on Friday. Local employees of Wells Fargo put in landscaping in the yard earlier in the week.

"The blessings just keep coming," said Barnett. She said she never imagined she would be able to move from an apartment to a new home for years to come.

Affordable Housing Network Inc. Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity, the Neighborhood Development Corp. and Matthew 25 all have participated in the city's flood recovery and all are getting a portion of Wells Fargo's $100,000 housing grant, which is providing support for four new homes and three home renovations. There is also some funds for financial counseling for the new homeowners. In addition, the city of Cedar Rapids is providing lots for the four new homes, lots that that once held flood-damaged houses.

Joe Lock, executive director of the Affordable Housing Network Inc., said the local agencies winning the Wells Fargo grant had competed against entities in Chicago and the Quad Cities for the award.

He and Barnett both made it clear that getting Barnett into a new house represented years of hard work on her part.

Barnett, a training coordinator at the Horizons family services' agency in Cedar Rapids, said she spent six years working with a financial counselor in the Horizons' agency to get her personnel finances in order so that today she can qualify for a home mortgage with the help of a piece of the Wells Fargo grant, the donated city lot and an additional incentive through the city-administered flood-recovery home-building program.

In the end, Barnett's monthly mortgage payment at 3.5 percent annual interest will be just a bit more than the $515 monthly rent she has been paying for the Hiawatha apartment she has left behind. She has dropped cable TV service to cut her monthly expenses and said she also will save money by having her own washer and dryer.

Barnett's move to the Harrison Elementary School neighborhood is just one of many such moves as the city is concentrating much of the federal incentives in its latest round of flood-recovery home building in the blocks in and around Barnett's new home.

"There's so many new houses and so many different things going on to build up this part of town, and that's exciting to me," Barnett said. "I think it's part of something bigger. It's going to be more like that neighborly feel, and people are going to care about their houses, care about living here."

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