Cedar Rapids core neighborhoods still hurting from June flash floods
CEDAR RAPIDS – Flash-flooding that filled their basement with more than 9 feet of water is still all too real for Jim and Cheri Kirk, but getting others to understand what happened has proven remarkably unreal.
“I’d like the city to stop acting like it didn’t happen,” said Jim Kirk, 57. “People over here are pretty bitter about it.”
“Here” is the 1500 block of B Avenue NE, part of the city’s most recent historic district, where the Kirks have lived for more than 30 years.
The couple and their neighbors have attended City Council meetings and otherwise tried to attract attention to the devastation that began the night of June 29, when heavy rains inundated Cedar Rapids.
That intense amount of water in just a short period of time overwhelmed the city’s storm and sanitary sewer systems, causing water and sewage to back up into homes in several core neighborhoods throughout Cedar Rapids.
The Kirks lost everything in their basement – water heater, washer, dryer, furnace, tools, freezers full of food and more – as well as everything in their garage and even their vehicles, which filled with water in the street.
They were not alone. The city’s Building Services Department recorded damage at 306 properties, of which 35 were deemed structurally unsafe with foundation collapses.
Some of those homes are in the Kirks’ block and nearby, in the 1500 block of A Avenue NE, where at least a few of the building owners are considering walking away from their homes, according to city staff.
That comes as bad news to Cedar Rapids Historian Mark Stoffer Hunter.
“It’s a very vulnerable block,” he said of the swath of homes on A Avenue, noting that Coe College has razed numerous other blocks in the neighborhood in past years. “This is still a completely intact block.”
One house on A Avenue has particular historical significance as the home of Grant Wood’s grandfather, Stoffer Hunter said, and is likely where the artist stayed when his family first moved to Cedar Rapids.
Some of the homes date to the 1800s, with the Kirks noting that their house was believed to have been built by Coe College in the 1850s.
Their home is among the contributing structures – those with architectural significance – in the city’s new B Avenue NE Historic District.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in December, the district stretches along B Avenue from 15th Street to 21st Street NE.
Emily Meyer, who spearheaded the nomination, said owners of contributing structures in the district, as well as in other historic districts where flooding occurred, are eligible for historic tax credits on money they invest in rebuilding their homes.
The city has two local historic districts, the Second and Third Avenue Historic District and the Redmond Park-Grande Avenue Historic District, both in southeast Cedar Rapids, which also sustained damage from the flash-floods.
Linn County was among those declared a federal disaster area, but federal funding will go for city needs, rather than to individual homeowners, said Assistant City Manager, Sandi Fowler.
Building owners can apply for low-interest SBA loans, said Fowler, who noted that the city also approved funding for a HACAP case worker earlier this month to help the flood victims.
The Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation and Linn Area Partners Active in Disaster will split the cost of the part-time worker with the city. Funding ends Oct. 21.
Fowler said anyone in need of assistance should begin by calling 211.
Meyer, a board member of Save Cedar Rapids Heritage, said along with property tax abatements, homeowners in historic districts can recoup up to 25 percent of repair costs, while nearly 50 percent is available for commercial buildings, such as rentals.
She and other members of Save CR Heritage are spreading the word about the tax incentives, with hopes that the core neighborhoods will remain intact.
Hunter Stoffer, also a member of Save CR Heritage, agreed.
“We just don’t want demolition to be an option over there,” he said.