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Qualified Buyers May Have One Last Shot at Housing Assistance Program

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CEDAR RAPIDS — One more round of state funding could help keep the flood-recovery housing boom going in part of Cedar Rapids. But those who may qualify for the city’s “ROOTs” program need to know this may be the last chance to get that housing help.

ROOTs stands for Rebuilding Ownership Opportunities Together. For income-qualified buyers, it can mean city assistance with down payments of up to 25 percent of the cost of a newly-constructed home. That’s up to a value of $150,000.

The $11-million dollars coming from the state in the fourth, and apparently final, round of assistance should mean an additional 200 affordable homes.

The ROOTs construction phase ending soon has so far meant 140 new homes both completed with paperwork finalized. But if you count several housing programs that preceded ROOTs, the total number of new homes is expected to exceed 800.

Ida and Gary Laetare are among the buyers who took part in the latest ROOTs program. Their home on G Avenue N.W. was a Habitat for Humanity home that was completed in a “blitz build” just last month.

But the Laetare family also qualified for the down payment assistance from the city as well as the Habitat help.

Ida Laetare said the family of four had lived in a mobile home before the move. And if someone had asked years ago if they could afford a new home, she’d have thought they were crazy.

“I would have laughed at them and said we all have fantasies and that’s a big one,” Laetare said.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett and other city officials touted both the results of ROOTs and the one last chance for buyers at a news conference Wednesday morning.

Corbett said without the program, the return of housing to flood-impacted areas like the Time Check neighborhood wouldn’t have happened so quickly, if it happened at all.

“We all know that after disasters, like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, people left New Orleans and never came back. That wasn’t the case in Cedar Rapids because we worked so hard,” the mayor said.

Council member Ann Poe, who grew up on the west side of Cedar Rapids, agreed ROOTs and the housing assistance programs that preceded it meant a lot of areas struggling to come back after both high water and then property buyouts.

“We need homes in this area that was flood-impacted. We need to bring people back to the core. Of course, Harrison School sits a few blocks away and we need the housing stock to support that school,” Poe said.

City officials, at the news conference, also noted that property values in some of the flood-impacted areas have recovered nicely since 2008. They said that was also a byproduct of the ROOTs program and all the new home construction.

Mayor Corbett and the others urged anyone interested to begin the process of asking questions and filling out forms to see if they qualify. Builders also qualify for assistance to keep the price under the $150,000 maximum. The last round of funding requires all homes in the ROOTs program to be completed by September of 2015.

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