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Baltimore Field House

Former Mayor John Rooff and Lincoln Savings Bank are building new affordable houses along Vermont Street at Waterloo's Baltimore Field.

WATERLOO — A stalled plan to build houses on Baltimore and Williston fields appears to be moving again.

The Waterloo City Council has amended a contract first approved in June 2012 to restart infill housing projects on a number of vacant city lots.

“They are back on track,” said John Rooff, who has taken the lead in moving the deal forward. “I was just waiting for the city to redraft the development agreements.”

Rooff and engineer Jim Ellis had formed Residential Development Partners LLC nearly seven years ago with plans jointly to develop houses on land donated by the city at Baltimore Field, Williston Field and the former Van Eaton and Lafayette school sites.

“Within 30 days of signing the agreement we legally separated,” Rooff said.

Ellis took the south half of Baltimore Field and Williston Field, while Rooff’s Black Hawk Contracting and Development took the north lots of Baltimore Field and the other sites.

Baltimore Field is a six-acre park at the intersection of Vermont Street and Hawthorne Avenue. Williston Field is a single acre of open space at West Seventh Street and Williston Avenue.

But Lincoln Savings Bank foreclosed on the Ellis properties. Then the Iowa Economic Development Authority pulled back the affordable housing investment tax credits it had authorized in communities statewide.

“The only way to do this is with incentive programs,” Rooff said. “What it does is it helps us get the (sale) price low enough so we can get people qualified (for mortgages) to move into them.”

Most of the lots remained undeveloped and prompted questions from the public and council members about whether the land should be recovered by the city.

Things changed last year when IEDA restored Rooff’s tax credits. Lincoln Savings Bank engaged Rooff to install the infrastructure on the five Williston Field lots and to finish a home Ellis had started at Baltimore Field.

The amendments approved recently by the city reset the original agreement, replacing Ellis with the bank, and call for up to 14 new houses to begin construction this year. It also adds a $5,000 incentive payment for each home.

Rooff has already built and sold houses on two of his four lots at Baltimore Field. That leaves five lots there to be developed by Rooff and the bank.

“As of (this week) we could have four of them sold,” Rooff said. “There’s interest, and we’re happy about that.”

Rooff is also planning to move ahead with new homes at the former Grout school on Idaho and Monroe streets and several lots on Indiana Street, which was near the old Lafayette school.

A former Waterloo mayor, Rooff has built $8 million in new affordable homes in Waterloo over the past 12 years with most of them located on the city’s east side.

“I’m doing it because when I sat in (the mayor’s) seat I realized there wasn’t a lot of affordable housing being addressed in this city,” he said. “You can go all around our city and see $200,000, $300,000, $400,000 homes. But that isn’t the makeup of a lot of our citizens.”

Current Mayor Quentin Hart said he was grateful for the effort.

“This is about community building, putting people in homes, giving them an opportunity to be home owners for the city,” Hart said. “We’ve seen neighborhoods that haven’t seen new housing in over 80 years start to see some forms of life and revitalization.”

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Waterloo City Reporter

Waterloo city reporter for the Courier

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