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Park Washington Plaza residents won’t be returning soon due to funding gap

Kirt Manion

Residents of the Hamburg senior housing development hoping for a quick return to their homes were dealt a depressing blow during a meeting at city hall on Thursday, Jan. 9.

A funding shortage of at least a half million dollars ended the chances for refurbishing the senior housing which had been destroyed by the March flooding.

Residents of the housing had been forced to abandon their homes and most of their possessions as flood waters quickly approached last March.

Since then, the residents have been staying with family or making other temporary arrangements with the hopes of returning to the housing once the waters left and repairs were made.

The city of Hamburg had held out hopes of finding needed money to bring back the development.

Although the city has been aggressive and successful in its approach to obtaining grant dollars, rules for spending the funds require that they be spent in certain areas. The city was unable to find funds that could be used for the specific purpose of refurbishing the senior housing.

On Thursday, representatives from the federal agency known as HUD (Housing and Urban Development) came to Hamburg to meet with members of the local housing board, city council member Kent Benefiel, Mayor Cathy Crain, Public Works Director Alan Dovel and City Clerk Sheryl Owen.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss options and help formulate a direction for the senior housing effort in Hamburg moving forward.

Local housing board members were Joanna Tiemeyer, Janet Rummell and Kent Claiborne. Paul Bennett, the executive director of Hamburg’s low rent housing, was also present.

Representatives from HUD included Kathy R. Ritzler, portfolio management specialist for HUD; Frances M. Cleary, director, office of public housing for HUD; Daniel Sumile, portfolio management specialist for HUD; Stacy T. Copeland, portfolio management specialist for HUD; and Steve Eggleston, field office director for HUD. Also present was Alexis Fleener, Southwest Iowa Planning Council.

The opening stages of the meeting involved talking about the positives and the attractive qualities of the current site. Mayor Crain pointed to a number of those positives, including the flat land of the current site and its close proximity to the medical clinic and to a convenience store where residents could get much needed items.

Of course, after discussing those positives, the group dug into the financials. That’s where the news turned negative. Counting all dollars available to refurbish and considering the cost of the project, it was found that over $600K would need to be found to push the project forward.

The city could offer $100K in money that had been donated by individuals and, thus, could be used for senior housing. But that still left the project short by over half a million dollars.

The option of the city bonding out money to make up the shortage was discussed, but that possibility doesn’t seem reasonable at this time.

The city of Hamburg suffered damages in all aspects, including residences and businesses, representing a sizable loss in tax base, the revenue source of any government. To keep city services, the city went through its $500K in reserve funds and took out a $2 million draw down loan. That loan stood at $484K as of the meeting last week and the city continues to pay down the debt.

The city could bond out additional dollars, but with the loss of the tax base, the cost of flood insurance on the refurbished senior housing, and the possibility of the city having to take on additional flood related property responsibility, the idea of piling up debt might not be reasonable.

“The city realizes that flood damaged property could all end up being under the responsibility of the city,” said Mayor Crain. “We are trying very hard to make sure our finances stay in the black so we can absorb what we must.”

Crain said the city already knows of five two story buildings in downtown Hamburg that will have to be torn down at city expense.

Since the funding shortage exists  in the senior housing project without a means to address it, the conversation turned from refurbishing the current site to finding a site for new construction of senior housing in Hamburg.

A consensus was reached that new construction was more feasible since additional dollars would be available for the project through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That’s the good news. The bad news, of course, is that new construction doesn’t leave the residents of the former housing with a quick solution to their problems.

New construction would likely be a three to five year process. Board member Joanna Tiemeyer said residents definitely want to return. She said she spoke recently with a resident who had made temporary arrangements in Sidney, and, while glad to have housing, that person didn’t want Sidney to be permanent.

“She plans everyday for when she gets to come home,” Tiemeyer said. “They want to move back home. That is their home.”

It is devastating that a flood, now over 300 days old, continues to deal out negative outcomes for the community of Hamburg.

At the same time, having a plan for housing going forward is a must. Hamburg lost some 47 rental properties including the senior housing.

“If you need to rent a piece of property in Hamburg today, you aren’t going to be able to. You won’t even find a one bedroom.

And businesses built up to cater to senior residents are suffering without that business.

Getting the senior housing residents back to Hamburg as soon as possible, Crain said, ranks No. 2 on the list of must dos for Hamburg after completion of a levee system on the city’s western edge.

The plan for future housing in Hamburg may be a two-pronged solution. The Hamburg housing board will begin the process of new construction on a site to be determined at a later date. The board will also be looking to divest from the current site as quickly as possible. Without residents at the site, the former housing is only an expense.

“It’s an expense to us, rather than an asset,” Claiborne said.

The hope would be to offer incentives to potential developers to take the current site and develop it for more rental units. The site may even be sold at below fair market value, although such a sale would likely stipulate that the developer offer low income housing at the site.

A sale at fair market value would open up the chance of renting to anyone and allow for an even greater potential solution to housing problems in Hamburg in the future.

While solutions are being worked, the current residents are left without the Hamburg senior housing option. Frances M. Cleary of HUD said vouchers would be made available to the former residents of the Hamburg senior housing. Those vouchers could then be used for any housing possibility in the southwest Iowa.