Flood-Damaged Home Relocation Effort in Iowa Stays Frozen

August 11, 2010

The nice-sounding option to save flood-damaged homes in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by moving them to better spots has not turned to reality in any big way more than two years after the June 2008 flood.

In total, city Code Enforcement Division officials believe residents have secured permits to move just five homes in the nearly 26 months since the flood, a flood that has put some 1,300 of the most severely flood-damaged homes in line to be bought out with public dollars.

Two of the five houses have been moved by neighborhood advocate Michael Richards in an effort that Richards agrees has been rocky and instructive as it still unfolds in the 1000 block of Sixth Street SE five months or so after the first city permit was secured for the move.

“It is a pioneering effort,” Richards offers of his house-moving venture. “When we learn to walk and talk, everything is going to be slower in the beginning.”

The delays of the move have flustered one neighbor, and the imprecision of the move, which has let equipment, vehicles and the garage stray onto a neighbor’s property, has angered another.

“Our experience has been a negative one,” says Doug Burrell, a lawyer in Atlanta, Ga., whose mother owns the lot next to the Richards’ moving site.

Home moving has come to the fore now as the city has unveiled a creative new housing renovation program – the Residential Property Disposition Program – to see how many of 476 flood-damaged homes identified as potentially repairable on the city’s buyout list attract interest from local contractors, developers and others.

Of the 476, according to city estimates, some 275 sit in the 100-year flood plain or an area set aside for the construction of a new flood-protection system. They would need to be moved before they are renovated under current city rules.

No one is predicting a home-moving heyday.

In its housing disposition program, the city will give flood-damaged homes it buys through its buyout program to those with construction experience and the financial shoulders to renovate and sell a house to someone who intends to make the place a home. For the 275 homes the city says first must be moved, the developer must pay for the move and build a foundation for the home before renovating it.

Caleb Mason, a program administrator in the city’s Department of Community Development, reports great interest from the building and development community in the city program. At the same time, though, Mason says he has heard little from contractors about moving houses, likely, he adds, because of the extra cost in such an enterprise.

One exception is Charles Jones, president of Green Development LLC in Iowa City, who proposes renovating buyout homes he believes have some historic traits and can qualify for federal and state historic tax credits. His proposal includes moving some homes before renovation.

Jones’ conceptual idea, in fact, is to create a “Greenville” section of renovated homes in the blocks next to Czech Village between A and C streets SW, most of which sit in the construction zone proposed for a new flood protection system and/or the 100-year flood plain.

However, Jones’ push to save what he believes are historic homes in a historically significant spot next to Czech Village is running up against a city decision not to allow homes bought out with federal dollars to be renovated in the construction zone or 100-year flood plain, or to be moved around in or into the 100-year flood plain for renovation.

Even so, Jones says he hopes his home “rescue” firm can point to exceptions permitted in federal law and change the city’s mind.

For his part, home-moving advocate Michael Richards says the small number of home-moving companies in Iowa and also the state’s sometimes challenging weather have complicated his move and will do the same for other home-moving pioneers. He estimates it could take 47 years at the pace of his house moving to move all 275 homes on the city list of possible movable homes.

“It’s important to be realistic,” Richards says. Even so, with moving expenses of $20,000, plus another $3,500 to move utility lines, Richards says it has made financial sense for him to move two homes a block, put them together into one and renovate them.

He says it’s significantly cheaper than building a new house of the same size, which is the very reason City Hall is dangling buyout homes in front of builders and developers for free.

Information from: The Gazette

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