C.R. Housing Project Honors Percy Harris

The Gazette • July 10, 2015

Cedar Rapids Developer Jack Hatch says he builds affordable housing in Iowa in a way that is attractive yet sturdy so it will stand the test of time.

Then he says he goes one step further: He names the buildings.

At a community dedication ceremony Friday, Hatch explained to a noontime gathering of about 100 people why he named his two new apartment buildings on Sixth Street SE – the Oak Hill Jackson Brickstones – after 12-year-old Adam Todd and 87-year-old Art Pennington.

Todd, who struggles with epilepsy, is the son of Sara Todd and Dale Todd, Hatch Development Group’s regional development director and a former Cedar Rapids City Council member. Pennington, who lives a block and a half from one of the Brickstones,is a former baseball star who thrived in the Negro Leagues. Hatch said Pennington would have made it to the major league if he hadn’t been  black player married to a white woman.

“Art Pennington and Adam Todd,” ?Hatch said. “These are more than just names. This is a statement about injustice, persistence, courage, that we’re very honored to have placed on these two buildings.

“Here you have the names of two gentlemen, one who is (12) and another who is a little older. They can inspire us. So when you drive by these buildings, you’re going to think about the people who live in the neighborhood, and about people who have fought for their lives, for something, and someone who is going to continue to fight for his life with the courage he has.”

The Adam, with 54 affordable apartments, is now open, and the Pennington, with 42 apartments, is slated to open soon.

Pennington, who turns 88 next week, shard some stories of his baseball days with the crowd, and said he was “very, very proud” to have been thought of by Hatch and Dale Todd.

“It’s something that I just can’t believe,” Pennington, who moved to Cedar Rapids in 1959, said before Friday’s event. “After all these years, and they are all recognizing me. I’m really grateful.”

Mayor Ron Corbett thanked Hatch, a state senator from Des Moines, and Dale Todd for putting “heart” into the two new apartment buildings. The mayor said the buildings are helping to replace affordable housing lost in the Oak Hill Jackson neighborhood in the June 2008 flood.

“They say sometimes you have to go through the valley to get to the mountaintop,” Corbett said. “And as individuals struggle and go through their little valleys, as Adam does and as Art has done, communities do, too. I think we’re through our valley, and we’re heading up to the mountaintop. And this (the Brickstones) is one great project on that road to recovery.

The Harris building is the latest in a series of projects that have replaced housing lost in the Flood of 2008 with the help of $45 million in federal flood disaster relief.

Before Thursday’s ceremony, Jennifer Pratt, the city’s development director, recalled how plans to build the first of the replacement housing projects after the flood were not greeted warmly in some neighborhoods. The federal dollars required that the projects include a mix of apartments, some for lower-income workers, which some neighbors didn’t like.

Seven years later, Pratt said “high-quality” projects like Hatch’s 10th Street Brickstone have helped people set aside negative thoughts about rental housing and to see it as “workforce housing” for workers with a variety of incomes.

“It really has changed people’s ideas of what rental can be,” Pratt said.

Corbett told the gathering o perhaps 100 that the “single-most important thing” that the city did after the flood was to rebuild its housing stock. Some 1,400 properties were bought and demolished during the city’s flood recovery.

“When you lose that many homes in one day, you’re tempted to want to build the very next day,” he said. “But if you do something too fast at a low cost, you sacrifice quality. We didn’t want to do that.”

He said the city has taken its time, rebuilding both single-family homes and multifamily apartment projects with federal assistance. A year and a half ago, he said, the city “turned the corner,” having replaced all that it had lost in 2008. Projects opening now, like the 10th Street Brickstone, are preparing the city for the future, he said.

In total, this piece of the city’s multifamily housing replacement effort will have seen $100.87 million of investment, with $45.5 million of the spending coming form federal disaster dollars.

According to city figures, the 10th Street Brickstone, received $3 million in public funds for what, Todd said, became a $5.2 million project.

Hatch also built and manages the Oak Hill Jackson Bricksotnes, two of the first replacement-housing apartment buildings supported by a different program that opened in 2011 on Sixth Street SE. One is named Adam, for Todd’s son, who has epilepsy. The other is named Pennington, for Art Pennington, a neighborhood resident who was a baseball star in the Negro Leagues of the 1940s.