It’s been a year in the making, and now Rejuvenate Housing, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to revitalizing Davenport neighborhoods, is ready to sell its first renovated home, located on West 14th Street, just off Gaines.
Rejuvenate was established in 2021 by the late Don Decker, a Davenport financial adviser who spearheaded Rejuvenate Davenport, an organization founded in the 1980s to improve the downtown by demolishing blighted buildings, and Gwen Tombergs, a member of the Rejuvenate Davenport board.
It’s no accident that the word “rejuvenate” appears in both organizations’ names.
Rejuvenate Housing’s goal is to do for the central city what Rejuvenate Davenport did for the downtown: spark revitalization.
But instead of demolishing, Rejuvenate Housing’s goal is to acquire abandoned and neglected properties before they dilapidate to the point of no return, renovate them and sell them below market value to people who might otherwise not have an opportunity to buy a home, thereby promoting “the health and welfare of a community,” as its mission statement says.
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“Sell” instead of “rent” is important, as home ownership tends to stabilize neighborhoods.
The current project was financed by Quad-City Bank & Trust. The bank donated $25,000 to buy the house that was on the city’s list of condemned properties and provided a construction loan to pay for $60,000 in repairs that brought the home up to code. The bank also has pledged to pay for $2,000 in closing costs, Tombergs said.
Rejuvenate’s mission “falls in line with (the bank’s) commitment to our community,” Beth Dunn, vice-president of commercial loans, said in an email. The bank “was proud to help with Rejuvenate Housing’s … initiative of revitalization of Quad-Cities neighborhoods and finding a way to make home ownership affordable.”
Rejuvenate Housing is now working with a young couple hoping to buy the home for $100,000. The estimated monthly payment on a 30-year loan would be in the range of $661 to $672 per month, Rejuvenate says. That is less than most people pay to rent an apartment and certainly less than it would cost to rent a three-bedroom, two-bath house with central air, a washer/dryer, a stove/refrigerator and a one-car garage.
From the outside, the house on West 14th Street looked pretty good even when the city condemned it as uninhabitable — it is sided in relatively new gray vinyl and all windows are intact. The problem was inside, with instability in the basement. It was owned by a Colorado investment company that had purchased it for $97,500 in 2018, but estimates for basement repairs were so high that the company just let it sit, Tombergs said.
Absentee ownership and delays in performing city-ordered repairs is a concern on West 14th Street as well as throughout Davenport’s older neighborhoods.
Tombergs contacted the Colorado company and worked out a deal.
Once the home sells, Rejuvenate will begin work on a house on West 17th Street, which it received as a donation from St. Ambrose University.
In addition to completing its first project, Rejuvenate recently hired a part-time paid staff member, former Scott County Planning and Development Director Tim Huey, who serves as executive director.
Huey is uniquely qualified for his new role because he previously was president of the Quad-Cities Housing Council, the fundraising arm and fiscal agent for a consortium of more than 50 groups, including nonprofits, that work on affordable housing issues. And in his role with Scott County, he was the tax deed administrator, dealing with, and ultimately disposing of, properties that have so many taxes or assessments owed against them and are in such bad shape that investors aren’t interested in them.
Also involved in Rejuvenate Housing are two other former Rejuvenate Davenport members, Gene Meeker, former Davenport alderman and Rejuvenate Davenport executive director, who serves as the new group’s vice president, and Davenport lawyer Curt Beason, who serves as the new group’s secretary. Ed Winborn, former Davenport mayor and Scott County supervisor, is treasurer.
Board members are Bill Ashton, retired engineer; Betsy Brandsgard, formerly an executive with DavenportOne, a Chamber of Commerce group; Ian Frink, an owner of the Rock Island-based Crawford Co. and a former Davenport alderman who worked on central city neighborhood issues; and Mike Gorsline, Davenport lawyer.
Tombergs guided the organization during its first year on a volunteer basis, but she also has started a new business, and doing both became too much. Tombergs previously was involved with many Quad-City businesses and organizations including the Quad-City Storm hockey team, United Way of the Quad-Cities Area, Lujack’s auto dealership, Quad-City casinos and the Quad-Cities Chamber.
Where will the money, houses come from?
While Rejuvenate Housing got its first two properties at no cost, it will need money going forward to acquire more and to do the rehabs. Some of that money will come from the sale of previous properties and from its own fundraising.
But it also might qualify for help from a new neighborhood stabilization plan proposed Feb. 8 by city staff.
The proposal that still must be adopted by the City Council would address the city’s long-festering problem of vacant and abandoned housing and “disinvestment” in the central city. If approved, this program also could chip away at the lack of affordable housing.
As proposed, the city would invest $2.1 million in federal COVID-19 rescue dollars — the American Rescue Plan Act — over the next three years to reduce the number of vacant and abandoned properties along the Gaines Street corridor through acquisition, rehabilitation or new construction.
The corridor includes Gaines Street and the one-block stretches on either side of it — to Warren Street on the west and Scott Street on the east — between Locust Street on the north and 5th Street on the south. This area was chosen because of its high concentration of vacant properties — 36 presumed vacant and 66 likely vacant — police calls, city code violations and low-income households, staff said.
In addition to providing money to developers, individuals or nonprofits for purchase and fixup, the plan would have the city act to acquire these properties in the first place — before they are demolished by neglect.
This is a piece people interested in neighborhood revitalization have long pleaded for.
As is, vacant or abandoned properties can languish for three to five years before they become available for purchase and by then, they’re often too far gone to make restoration financially feasible.
The neighborhood stabilization proposal also has a second component: $2 million to expand assistance to targeted homeowners under the city’s DREAM project.
Launched in 2019, DREAM provides eligible homeowners in the city’s older, historic neighborhoods up to $20,000 for exterior home restoration projects and to fix outstanding code violations. Under the new proposal, the amount available for exterior work in the corridor would increase to $40,000 and the scope would increase to include garages, fencing and landscaping.
In addition, $500,000 of the $2 million would be set aside to assist landlords in making repairs to rentals along the corridor. Repairs would be limited to windows, siding, porches and doors.
And both homeowners and rental owners could qualify for a 10-year tax exemption on the increase in property taxes resulting in improvements funded with the city’s assistance.
While Don Decker and Gwen Tombergs got Rejuvenate Housing established, the inspiration came …