Iowa Homeowners with Flood Damage May Lack Funds for Repairs

July 1, 2008

Experts believe that many of Iowa’s flood-damaged homes could be repaired , if their owners can find the cash.

Record flooding this month ravaged thousands of Iowa homes, leaving behind mud and debris. Most of the houses affected are decades old, and many are owned by people of modest means who did not have flood insurance.

The largest number, by far, are in Cedar Rapids, where the Cedar River shattered old flood records and poured through the city’s downtown and its oldest neighborhoods.

As recovery efforts continue, inspectors are finding that some of those houses have collapsed foundations or other fatal damage. Others have significant damage that is, in theory, fixable, but their owners would have to come up with tens of thousands of dollars.

“They’re probably salvageable, but not economical,” said Frank King, president of the Northwest Neighbors Association in Cedar Rapids.

King’s area, which includes Cedar Rapids’ Time Check neighborhood, is typical of the state’s flooded neighborhoods. Houses tend to be small, with about 1,200 to 1,500 square feet. Some date to the 1800s.

The owners are working class folks, King said. “I’m not talking about the engineers,” he said. “These are the people who actually get down and get dirty and do the work.”

Many of the area’s residents should qualify for federal help, such as low-interest loans and grants of up to $28,000. But King predicted that won’t be enough for many residents.

Experts said it’s not surprising that the floodwaters in Cedar Rapids and elsewhere tended to find modest, older neighborhoods.

Doug Johnston, an Iowa State University professor of urban planning, said most towns in Iowa were founded near rivers because they provided a means of transportation and power for mills.

Over time, Johnston said, people realized which areas were most likely to flood, and the wealthiest residents gravitated toward higher ground. The lowest land values tend to be in low-lying areas.

Cedar Rapids City Manager Jim Prosser expects that about 1,800 of the 4,000 or so damaged homes in his city will end up needing to be demolished.

Forty homes have already been slated for demolition, city officials said.

Eventually, King said he expects large parts of the neighborhoods near the river to wind up as parkland, with no rebuilding in the areas where houses will be bought out.

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