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City Plans for More Construction in Once-Flooded Neighborhoods

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — As the Cedar River crested Tuesday night, the Cedar Rapids City Council discussed a program to bring people back to neighborhoods that flooded in 2008.

It’s called the ROOTs Program, which stands for “Rebuilding Ownership Opportunities Together.”

“We have a public hearing on the disposition of some of the properties that are participating in the ROOTs programs, we have a number of development agreements that are on the agenda tonight (Tuesday) with various builders,” said Cedar Rapids Housing & Redevelopment Manager Paula Mitchell.

Mitchell said that the fourth and final round of the ROOTs program is just starting.

Many ROOTs approved homes lie within the core neighborhoods of Cedar Rapids. The city uses federal dollars to provide down payment assistance of up to 25-percent of the home’s cost to income-qualified participants.

None of these new homes can be built within the 100-year flood plain or in the city’s greenway areas, but some units are in the 500-year flood plain where some home were underwater in 2008.

Signs are popping up in empty lots not too far from the Cedar River. People can see a handful just off Sixth Street Southwest, meaning new units will eventually go up there.

While many hundreds of units have been built as part of the program so far, city leaders say the fourth round of the ROOTs program is just getting started.

“At age 25, I never thought I’d own my own home, let alone be able to build it and actually call it my own,” said ROOTs Homeowner Tonya Vega.

Vega moved into her ROOTS Home in October. The mother-of-two said her lot was under water in 2008. She said that inspired her family to choose that lot for their future home.

“We just wanted to help bring the city back because it just looked so sad,” Vega said.

“The City Council has really made a conscience decision to narrow the focus of that program so that it’s really supporting rebuilding in our core neighborhoods, especially those that were most flood impacted,” said Cedar Rapids Housing & Redevelopment Manager Paula Mitchell.

City leaders said construction is slated to begin soon on the final round of about 200 ROOTs homes. As construction continues, the river has, from time to time, become a threat rising and falling. The city said it has considered that threat, but feels confident in its decision to rebuild homes, which helps with property values in those once-flooded neighborhoods.

“The city does have an interim flood protection plan that our Public Works Department is deploying as we are experiencing the rise of the river this week. So we know that we have the ability to put that in place while we are waiting for flood protection, permanent flood protection to be constructed,” Mitchell said.

In the meantime, Tonya is happy with her new home and looking forward to the future.

“We plan on staying here for a very long time,” Vega said.

The city also told TV9 that it requires ROOTs homeowners to get flood insurance. Construction on the final round of homes is slated to wrap up in September of 2015.