The historic Walnut Neighborhood, bordering the northeast edge of downtown Waterloo, has sustained over a decade of demolition of houses due to decay and seen an increase in the disrepair of the remaining houses in the neighborhood. Walnut Neighborhood revitalization efforts are now underway, with Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity playing a significant role in the work. Habitat has already partnered with 12 low-income owner occupants in the neighborhood to provide critical home repairs, preventing existing homes from falling into further disrepair. Additionally, Habitat has fully rehabbed two vacant homes in the neighborhood and sold them to new Habitat homebuyers and will build or rehab 12 additional vacant properties over the next three years.

Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity co-convened and co-organized the Walnut Neighborhood Housing Coalition (WNHC) in December 2016 as part of the overall neighborhood redevelopment plan to specifically promote fair, decent, affordable, mixed-income, and historically preserved housing and residential development in the neighborhood. Partners of the WNHC include: Link CCD, the Walnut Neighborhood Association, JSA Development, Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity and the Waterloo Community Development office. The WNHC meets monthly to discuss projects and plans in process as well as new directions that need to be taken to continue the housing redevelopment efforts.

Two of the blighted homes Habitat has acquired in the neighborhood are small, one-bedroom structures on Clay Street. As part of the redevelopment efforts in the neighborhood, Habitat has agreed to work with partners and volunteers to rehab these homes at a lower cost than it would take to hire the work done by local contractors. Keeping these rehabs affordable will allow the redevelopment efforts to continue moving forward in the neighborhood, and will allow the homes to be sold closer to cost. Funds received from the sale of these homes will be reinvested into additional housing projects in the neighborhood.

Nazareth Evangelical Lutheran Church and Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity have been partners in several different ways since Habitat’s inception in the community in 1990. Individual volunteers from Nazareth Lutheran worked on Habitat’s first house and are still working on houses in process today. The congregation has also more fully adopted Habitat home projects including a full-house sponsorship on Independence Avenue in Waterloo in 1998/99 and a “Naz House” sponsorship on Western Avenue in 2017.

During this time, a group of volunteers from Nazareth Lutheran – called the Naz Builders – formed as a special building ministry of the church, initially in an effort to help with the rebuilding in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Once the trips to Louisiana ended, the Naz Builders started looking for projects they could work on for other churches and nonprofit organizations in the Cedar Valley area. In 2015, the Naz Builders partnered with Habitat to take on the buildout and renovation of the Habitat for Humanity ReStore building on Hammond Avenue in Waterloo. This allowed Habitat to keep the costs of renovating the space for the store opening affordable, while also not pulling traditional volunteers off other Habitat homebuilding projects. This ensured Habitat homebuilding could remain the organization’s focus during the time.

This summer, the Naz Builders are partnering with Habitat once again to tackle the first Clay Street blighted house remodel in the Walnut Neighborhood. Habitat staff are providing some assistance behind-the-scenes, but the Naz Builders are taking on most of the project management and all of the labor. Through their commitment and investment, the project will be completed at a much more affordable cost than it would be if a contractor would need to be hired to do the work. In addition, Habitat can continue focusing their traditional volunteers on their other active building and repair projects to keep things on schedule for the families working toward homeownership and sustainability. Finally, through the Naz Builders, a home that most people would drive by and consider unsalvageable will be saved and the neighborhood will be able to preserve another structure that contributes to its rich and important history.

Once the home is complete, Habitat will sell it on the open market to someone interested in living in the neighborhood permanently. They will take the proceeds from the sale and use them to invest in another like-project in the neighborhood.