Lots of money and big plans for Cedar Rapids rescue law funds


Council members listen to and consider comments on the use of US bailout funds made by a group calling for “public money for the public good” at a city council meeting at city hall from Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, July 13, 2021. This was the board’s first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown rallies began in the spring of 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)

President Joe Biden sends $ 28 million to Cedar Rapids as part of the US bailout. It’s a big change. So naturally, a lot of people have ideas on how best to spend it in a city that’s not only stricken by a pandemic, but also this derecho you might have heard of.

City officials have made general plans for how they would like to spend the money. During a presentation at last week’s city council meeting, staff said the money should be focused on four areas, housing and social services, workforce training and education, protection from flooding on the west side and loss of income from both viral and stormy disasters.

Under housing and social services, the city hopes to seek proposals for housing projects in cooperation with Linn County, which is receiving $ 44 million from the bailout. There would be money for the PATCH program which would help homeowners make an even long list of derecho repairs. And the city would seek an expanded permanent seat for the Ladd Library on the west side, which would also serve as a center of opportunity providing access to various services.

Further dollars would be used to address labor shortages through education and training programs, in partnership with Kirkwood Community College’s Pathways program and the Small Business Development Center.

The city argues that using ARP dollars for flood protection on the west side corrects the injustice caused by the federal government only funding the dikes and flood walls on the east side of the river. As for lost revenue, some would go to local nonprofits that have seen hotel / motel tax assistance drop.

Officials say they’ve gathered information about their plans from local groups such as Waypoint who coordinate recovery services, a community impact survey conducted in coordination with Linn County and the United Way, and door-to-door conversations. with 950 residents.

“We are a very resourceful community in many ways, so encouraging these nonprofits to work together and bring the knowledge they have needs are a key part of that,” said Mayor Brad Hart in a brief discussion after the presentation. . Hart is running for re-election this fall.

“A lot more to come,” Hart said, speaking of more specific details of the plan coming in the coming weeks.

So, is everyone singing the city hymnbook? Not exactly.

At the same meeting, a trio of groups, the Advocates for Social Justice, the Sunrise Movement and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement presented their own plan to create a task force to spend $ 10 million on 250 affordable housing that is environmentally friendly. climate in Cedar Rapids. .

“Public money should go to people,” said Jamie Izaguirre of the Iowa CCI. The supporters carried small signs saying “Public money for the public good”.

Social justice advocates and the Sunshine movement pushed the city to tackle police reforms and adopt a climate action plan, respectively. Now the groups are using their influence to take care of housing.

Mayoral candidate Amara Andrews, member of the Advocates for Social Justice, supports the plan

“I think it’s a logical proposition to have a task force to study the issue of homelessness and to come up with a plan to help people get out of homelessness. It’s a big problem in our city, ”Andrews told me last week. “Now is the perfect time for us to have the funding for the clawback law.”

Andrews too has its own plan to spend ARP funds. She would direct dollars to “human well-being infrastructure” at Cedar Rapids, which is nonprofit organizations providing essential relief and recovery services. It would invest in existing small businesses and start-ups and solve labor shortages. She wants several opportunity centers in the city to provide employment resources and address transportation, childcare, training and other barriers to employment.

“The reality is that we have to help those in need. And that is definitely what the accent should be. And any plan that doesn’t put people first doesn’t pay attention, ”Andrews said.

Andrews believes the city should shoulder a greater share of the burden currently borne by nonprofits.

“There are still a lot of houses in poor condition and therefore homeless people. And the struggle to get materials and get people to work on those repairs and handle insurance claims is still a big issue in the community, ”Andrews said. “I don’t want us to lose sight of this. I have a feeling the city relies heavily on nonprofits to deal with some of these issues. “

Mayoral candidate Tiffany O’Donnell is not a fan of the task force’s proposal, saying instead that city council needs to take the lead and listen to the needs of residents.

“These are our elected officials and, by the way, we can hold them accountable,” O’Donnell said in an interview, noting that the United Way and other groups are assessing housing needs.

“I really want to focus on infill housing, with a part designated for affordable housing. Affordable housing and housing in areas hardest hit by our natural disasters, COVID and certainly flooding, ”O’Donnell said.

“I watch downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods a lot and they’ve felt the biggest impacts over the years. Our downtown is empty today. I hang out with companies that tell me every day that they aren’t bringing all of their staff back in the foreseeable future, ”she said.

In recent years, downtown Cedar Rapids housing has meant lofts and other offerings for high-income professionals. But O’Donnell argues that better mixing is needed to revitalize the core.

“I think a city center is a city center. It becomes the signature of any successful city. The second largest city in the state certainly needs a distinctive downtown, ”said O’Donnell.

O’Donnell also wants to lead $ 3 million to nonprofits, including Derecho’s takeover efforts, and $ 5 million to small business takeovers.

The good news in all of this is that none of these ideas are a bad idea. The needs are clear. The lack of affordable housing was a big problem even before the derecho damaged thousands of homes. Exploiting underqualified workers to fill jobs has long been a focus here. Nonprofits, flood protection, a better library with extended services, all laudable goals.

What about the city and the county working together? A sign of the apocalypse? No, we’ve been through that before.

Now let’s see how the details play out.

(319) 398-8262; [email protected]

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