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Habitat's Walnut Neighborhood cottage renovation completed, to be listed for sale
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Habitat's Walnut Neighborhood cottage renovation completed, to be listed for sale

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WATERLOO – The newly renovated cottage at 314 Clay St., is a definite vintage charmer.

Marine blue exterior siding is accented by crisp white trim. It features a distinctive asymmetrical roof, sloped from a sharp peak above the round-top front door. Cheerful landscaping completes the picture. Inside, the one-bedroom, one-bath 1930s-era cottage also underwent an entire renovation.

Naz Builders, a group of volunteers from Nazareth Lutheran Church in Cedar Falls, spent last summer working on the Habitat for Humanity property in the historic Walnut Neighborhood. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into spring completion, but the project finally wrapped up in June.

The house will be listed for sale at month’s end, said Ali Parrish, executive director of Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity.

“This is the first time we’ve done a project like this solely for the purpose of redevelopment efforts in the neighborhood and not tied to a homeowner’s opportunity. It’s very exciting to see it all come together,” Parrish said.

For more than 10 years, decaying houses have been demolished in the neighborhood. Other homes are falling into disrepair. Revitalization is underway with Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity playing a significant role.

In December 2015, Habitat helped organize the Walnut Neighborhood Housing Coalition for residential redevelopment and to promote affordable and decent historically preserved housing. The coalition includes Link CCD, Walnut Neighborhood Association, JSA Development, Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity and the Waterloo Community Development office.

Habitat has partnered with 12 low-income owner-occupants to make home repairs, as well as rehabbing existing homes and selling them to new Habitat home buyers. Plans are to build or rehab 12 additional vacant properties over the next three years.

Volunteers like Naz Builders allow Habitat to rehab homes at a lower cost, then sell the homes closer to cost. Funds are reinvested in more neighborhood housing projects.

Habitat raised some eyebrows when they acquired the blighted house and its mirror image at 312 Clay St., Parrish said. The homes were in rough shape, but their distinctive architecture was worth salvaging in the historic community.

“There is the perception that it’s more cost effective to tear them down and build new, but new construction is very expensive. From the beginning, we said this revitalization work isn’t going to take away from our home building for single family homeowners.”

Habitat wanted to find a team of volunteers who “had the skill sets for the work, craftsman who wouldn’t be deterred by the challenges of this project, and who could self-manage.”

Naz Builders stepped up, Parrish said, “with expertise, heart and passion for the people and the neighborhood.” Nazareth Lutheran Church volunteers worked on their first Habitat house in 1990. The congregation also sponsored houses in 1998-99 on Independence Avenue and on Western Avenue in 2017.

Hank Wellnitz, retired from Omega Cabinets, serves as project manager with Lloyd Dove. Wellnitz formed the volunteer group to assist with rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When those projects ended, Naz Builders worked on churches and in 2015, renovated and remodeled the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Hammond Avenue.

For this house, the crew framed the main floor, shored up supports in the basement, built a new basement staircase, moved a kitchen window and removed layers of old exterior aluminum and wood siding. There are new stainless steel appliances, engineered wood floors and custom Craftsman details.

“This particular project made use of our craftsmanship in terms of the woodwork, a built-in bookcase and creating an arched front door entry,” Wellnitz said. “All of us really appreciate the opportunity to work with each other. We’re all good Christian friends, and it’s such a blessing for us to work together to really do some good for the community.”

Dove describes the experience as “satisfying. When we started out on this house, I did not envision how good it would look when we were done. I’ve been in construction 40 years, and it’s still hard to imagine that you can take apart what is there and put it back together.”

Naz Builders has already started work on 312 Clay St. “It has a little different floor plan, but some of those same Craftsman architectural details,” Wellnitz said.

Dove added, “Now we have a sort of blueprint that we can go next door and say, ‘OK, we’re going to do this and this.’ There are some differences, but we can see the possibilities as we go along.”

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