Coralville fish store in the NY Times

July 6, 2009

IOWA CITY – On the Fourth of July, the New York Times op-ed page had a piece on a tropical fish store in Coralville devastated by last year’s flood.

Now, the store has reopened in a new location, thanks to a lot of help from people in the community and beyond. One has to think that the perseverance of store owner Ed Fisher was a key factor, too.

Author and Iowa Writers’ Workshop Director Lan Samantha Chang wrote the story. To read it, click here.


More on Iowa City flood buyouts

June 26, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – I had a story in today’s Gazette and on GazetteOnline about how buyouts are to begin next week for flood victims in Iowa City.

I talked to a couple of people who will sell their homes to the city, and they were excited to finally be at this point.

City officials are very happy, too.

“I think happy would be an understatement,” said Steve Long, Iowa City’s community development director.

OK, so “happy” is not a strong enough word, but you get the point. 

It’s been a long year for everyone dealing with last year’s record flood. City officials are proud that Iowa City is among the first in the state to close on flooded properties.

“It’s pretty gratifying,” said David Purdy, the city’s point man on buyouts.

The timing of the buyouts is something to take note of. When a city buys a property, it goes off the tax rolls.

But that’s done just once a year, on July 1, said Assistant City Attorney Sue Dulek.

So it’s more benenificial for the city to buy as many of the flood-damaged homes as it can by the end of the month. If it buys one, say, Aug. 1, it would have to pay property taxes for the 11 months left in the fiscal year, she said.

It wasn’t until earlier this week that the city got a response from FEMA on some paperwork it needed to move forward. It would have been nice to get that stuff done earlier, city officials said, but they’re still glad they can start buying the homes.

The city plans to buy at least seven properties on Monday and Tuesday. It has 40 on its buyout list total.

The homes will be demolished and made into permanent green space. The goal is to purchase the majority of them by the end of the year so they are not threatened should there be flooding next spring.

Iowa City draws names for home program

June 23, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY — Brenda Y. Minor let out a little squeal as she left City Hall on Monday.

And who can blame her? A bit of luck may end up helping her, at age 53, become a homeowner for the first time.

“This is really a godsend,” said Minor, who currently rents a home in Iowa City through the Housing Fellowship and works at the driver’s license station.

She was one of forty people selected Monday for an affordable housing program offered by the city and administered by the Housing Trust Fund of Johnson County. Another eleven applicants were not so lucky — at least for now.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike O’Donnell drew the names out of a bingo roller in an event at City Hall attended by a couple of dozen applicants. The first 40 got dibs on selecting new homes to be built across the city. They will get to pick homes in the order their names were drawn. The rest go on a waiting list.

The program, funded by nearly $2.3 million in federal funds administered by the state, is intended to help replace housing lost during last summer’s record flood.

Buyers will pay for the homes but will receive down-payment assistance of up to 30 percent of the home price. Homes must be priced at $180,000 or less. There are income guidelines for who is eligible, and the assistance will be in the form of a five-year forgivable loan.

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Flood of 2008

June 7, 2009

Today’s Gazette includes a special section on the 2008 flood, with a lot of stories, first-person accounts and photos from throughout Eastern Iowa. Much of that information, along with videos and much more, can be found here. For those of you in Johnson County, click here for a story on that area.

Also, look for more stories in The Gazette and at GazetteOnline throughout this week, including one from me, which I’ll also post on this blog, on whether Coralville Lake should be dredged.

Apply for down-payment help

May 26, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY – The city is accepting applications for a new down-payment assistance program.

The city is working with developers to build 40 new homes at affordable prices, with flood victims receiving priority.

More information is available here.

I wrote a story earlier this month with information on the program. It is available here.

Iowa City to seek more flood funds

May 19, 2009

By Gregg Hennigan

IOWA CITY — The City Council agreed Monday night to go after money that would allow it to purchase flood-damaged homes that were ineligible for the federal buyout program.

The money would come from a new state-administered program that has $10 million in federal funds. More money may go into the program in the future, officials said.

The city will submit more than 80 homes in the Parkview Terrace neighborhood for consideration. Those homes are in the 500-year floodplain but not the 100-year boundary and therefore weren’t eligible for the federal buyouts that are beginning in Iowa City this week.

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