“One size fits all” not necessarily true in Wellington Heights
CEDAR RAPIDS – Rita Wright appreciates improvement efforts underway in her neighborhood, but questions the need to demolish the Wellington Heights home where she has lived the past four years.
“It’s a good, solid house,” she said of the home she rents at 624 14th St. SE. “I’ve never had problems with it.”
Representatives of the Affordable Housing Network, Inc., which took out the demolition permit for the house and another on Washington Avenue, agree with Wright’s assessment.
Structurally, the building is sound, they said, but the two-bedroom house is small and doesn’t fit with plans the group has for the block, which includes building an addition to the neighboring home.
So, to make room for the addition and to provide a larger yard for the home on the other side, the small house in the middle needs to go, said Joe Lock, executive director of the Affordable Housing Network.
That decision, as well as the plan to demolish a house at 1508 Washington Ave. SE, is making advocates for historic preservation a bit uneasy.
Both homes – the smaller one built in 1924 and the other in 1900 – have been declared contributing structures to a potential Huston Park Historic District in southeast Cedar Rapids, based on surveys of the neighborhood.
The Washington Avenue home, just one block from one of the current Cedar Rapids historic districts, has been vacant and is attracting vandals, said Dave O’Clair, who is managing the Affordable Housing Network’s efforts in Wellington Heights.
O’Clair said the group purchased the building because of drug dealing and other police calls to the home.
“It was a slum,” he said, adding that the home would be costly to repair. “We’d just like to get it down.”
The Affordable Housing Network is implementing a Four Oaks program called “TotalChild,” which addresses key risk factors in lives of children by strengthening neighborhoods, beginning in Wellington Heights.
Lock said the group has purchased 75 houses in the 18-block area so far, many of which have been remodeled as single-family homes. Those that are too costly to rehabilitate are demolished, he said.
“We aren’t purchasing houses and tearing them down without forethought,” Lock said, citing the $18,000 to $20,000 price tag for demolition.
Beth DeBoom, president of Save CR Heritage, hoped the Affordable Housing Network would look into alternatives to demolition.
“AHNI, as a non profit, has to be financially responsible as it attempts to strengthen Wellington Heights,” DeBoom said. “But I hope they keep in mind that the quickest and cheapest fixes are not always best for long term investment in the community.”
The Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation Commission voted to place a 60-day hold on both demolitions at its Nov. 14 meeting.
Members pointed to the intact block of the Washington Avenue home and the density that was designed for the neighborhood among the reasons for their decision.
Chairwoman Amanda McKnight Grafton applauded the Affordable Housing Network’s efforts in Wellington Heights, but cited a phenomenon of “blaming the house” for crime problems associated with the Washington Avenue home.
“It’s not the house that’s bad,” she said. “It was the people who were in it.”
Commission members said they hoped the 14th Street home could be moved, rather than demolished.
“Are we tearing down a perfectly good house, just to add something to another?” commission member Tim Oberbroeckling asked.
Member Todd McNall added that much of what was lost in Cedar Rapids during the 2008 flood was smaller, affordable housing, similar to the home on 14th Street.
Mark Stoffer Hunter, a member of both the commission and Save CR Heritage, said he hopes an answer can be found to satisfy all of the entities.
“There has to be a balance between improving the neighborhood, addressing the crime and historic preservation,” he said.
FYI: Anyone interested in moving one of the houses can contact the Cedar Rapids Community Development Department at (319) 286-5041.