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Dubuque student-supported program rehabbing 35th house

December 16, 2018

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — On a recent Tuesday afternoon, a muffled racket escaped the closed windows of a Dubuque house that had been silent for years.

Students in the Four Mounds Housing Education and Rehabilitation Training program were hanging drywall inside the gutted home, built in 1880, in the 2200 block of Central Avenue. The team worked alongside mentors Ron Fritz and Tim Altman.

The house already has come a long way since May, when it was purchased by the city as a targeted project for the HEART program.

This will be the 35th house to be renovated through the initiative, which teaches community youths about contracting skills through on-site training. And after 15 years, this will be the last for Fritz, Four Mounds’ founding HEART manager.

It’s been a big month for HEART.

City Council members held a work session walk-through of a recently completed house in the 300 block of West Locust Street before a recent meeting. The 1,700-square-foot, 150-year-old home had required gutting and a complete rebuild.

However, Fritz was able to salvage a seed of the original woodworking to spread historical touches through the home. Now the home, valued at $145,000, is back on the market.

“There wasn’t a whole lot you could save,” Fritz told the Telegraph Herald . “The only original (wood) I’d seen in the house was around the area where (a) fire started. I was able to take it and duplicate it. And that’s what you see around.”

Over more than a year, 17 students worked toward the finished project on Locust Street. Just a few blocks away on Central Avenue, some of those same students now are cutting and hanging drywall.

Keegan Burrows, a junior at Dubuque Senior High School, worked one semester on the Locust Street house. He took a semester off but returned this semester for work on Central Avenue.

“I missed doing the work,” he said. “And I liked it more than some classes.”

Taylor Miller, another junior at Senior, also worked on both houses. She recently was passing tools back and forth with her peers and her supervisors, using industry lingo like an old pro.

“At first, I just thought of it as a way to get out of school,” she said. “But it’s very fun to do something so hands-on. I’m learning a lot, and it’s something I might use later in life.”

Fritz said the students are far less polished at the start.

“At the beginning, it’s a lot of questions because they know nothing,” he said. “We did stuff with our hands growing up, be that riding a horse or nailing boards to a tree for a treehouse. These generations haven’t done that. But we try to get them to think for themselves. And after five months, I can just tell them what to do and they can — zip, zip — just do it.”

The kids, Fritz said, are the most rewarding part of the HEART program.

“Some will go to college, but they will have this trade they can go into,” he said. “There are so many carpenters looking for help.”

And the HEART team sees some past students again.

“Whenever we find lead (in a rehab building), it’s one of our old students, his company who comes to remove it,” Altman said. “And I wouldn’t have thought it.”

Four Mounds Marketing and Operations Manager Jill Courtney said the organization is looking for someone to take over the HEART training duties. But both Miller and Kris Neyens, of the Dubuque Housing and Community Development Department, said they can’t imagine the program without Fritz.

The program puts homes back on the market in better condition than they had been in years. But Neyens said the city has taken measures to ensure it isn’t just affluent Dubuque residents who have a shot at the properties.

First, the city only can sell the homes for either their appraised values or the amount that the city invested in the rehab. Since the appraised value is always lower, that is where they start.

Buyers must make less than 30 percent of the city’s median income, adjusted by family size. And the city provides long-term, zero-interest, $25,000 loans through their first-time homebuyer loan program.

HEART is a partnership among Four Mounds, Four Oaks, the city, Gronen Properties and Dupaco Community Credit Union. The students come through the Four Oaks program through Dubuque Community Schools and are under Altman’s direct supervision. Fritz, a Four Mounds employee, handles the ordering and operations.

Next year, students served by Four Oaks will be housed in the new expansion of the district’s Alta Vista Street campus. But according to Dubuque schools Student Services Director Shirley Horstman, the program itself isn’t anticipated to change.

“It is a wonderful partnership,” she said. “It has given many students an opportunity to explore careers in carpentry and house rehabilitation. They also help in terms of refurbishing of a property that a family can enjoy for a long time.”

The district caps HEART participants at 12 per year.

“It’s a small number, but the work is very intensive,” Horstman said. “We keep the number small so that each student can truly develop those skills.”

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Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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