Affordable Housing Network puts Cedar Rapids' Monroe Villas project on hold

High construction costs causing delays for non-profits plans

Rick Smith
Published: January 14 2014 | 12:15 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:04 am in

Significantly higher-than-expected construction bids have put on hold an ambitious plan to transform the shuttered Monroe Elementary School and grounds into 43-units of affordable housing.

Joe Lock, executive director of the Affordable Housing Network Inc., said that his non-profit agency expects to try again, probably in a year, to turn the project into reality.

Asked if this was good news for neighbors around the school at 3200 Pioneer Ave. SE who had opposed the project, Lock said, “For Affordable Housing Network, this project isn’t over. It’s just delayed.”

The project has won strong support from the Cedar Rapids school board, the City Planning Commission and the Cedar Rapids City Council, the latter of which approved a change of zone for the project on the Monroe school property at 3200 Pioneer Ave. SE in November.

The Affordable Housing Network project, called Monroe Villas, also is one of seven local projects that the council backed in December as the seven compete to secure low-income housing tax credits from the Iowa Finance Authority to help pay much of the cost of construction.

Securing a tax-credit award is crucial for all the projects.

However, Lock said he felt that the Monroe Villas project had an especially strong chance to win an award because it is designed to provide three-bedroom and four-bedroom affordable apartments and homes, which are in great demand in Cedar Rapids.

The $10-million Monroe Villas project consists of 20 single-family homes and two duplexes on the school grounds with the school to be transformed into 19 apartments.

Construction bids came in as expected for the homes and duplexes, but more than $1 million higher for the work to turn the school into living units.

“The single family portion worked, but the school didn’t work. We couldn’t make it work,” Lock said.

Projects compete for low-income housing tax credits once a year, and Lock said the agency will try again next year.

He said the hope is that Congress will make more funds available in the tax-credit program for 2015 while he said the agency will continue to seek other funds and may need reengineer the school renovation piece of the project.

Affordable Housing Network has provided the school district with a status report, and Lock said the agency hopes that the Monroe building and property will continue to be available for the project in a year.

The Cedar Rapids school board agreed to sell the property to Affordable Housing Network for $250,000 in an arrangement contingent on the agency securing tax credits to build the Monroe Villas project.

“We really did this in good faith and we still belive that it’s a strong project,” Lock said. “… We still want to see it happen.”

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