A lot of HEART goes into downtown Dubuque revitalization - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

A lot of HEART goes into downtown Dubuque revitalization

Teens in the HEART Program work on a home in the 2000 block of Dubuque's Jackson Street Teens in the HEART Program work on a home in the 2000 block of Dubuque's Jackson Street

Dubuque's Housing and Community Development Department is on a mission to turn aging houses in the Washington Neighborhood into attractive properties once again.

One such house, in the 2000 block of Jackson Street, is undergoing a renovation right now with help from the HEART Program, run through the local non-profit Four Mounds Foundation.

"The HEART Program is the Housing, Education and Rehabilitation Training program," Four Mounds Foundation executive director Chris Happ Olson said. "We work with Four Oaks of Iowa, Dubuque Community Schools and the city of Dubuque, as well as Four Mounds Foundation to be able to lead a community revitalization project in the Washington Neighborhood."

She said the HEART Program is made up of students from the Dubuque Community School District.

"They're typically age 16 to 19, and they have not met with a lot of success in a traditional classroom, so they've entered our classroom to be able to learn through a hands-on learning experience of revitalizing homes and restoring community," Happ Olson said.

Students learn usable skills ranging from carpentry to how to work with peers and under a supervisor.

18-year-old Cheyenne Winger is one of the HEART Program students working on the Jackson Street home this semester. She said she's not a big fan of the traditional high school setting.

"In high school, you're in a classroom for eight hours, so you don't really get to see what goes on outside," Winger said. "In HEART, you go to school for three hours, and then you come to work on a job site for three hours."

These job sites are homes needing repairs in or near Dubuque's Washington Neighborhood.

Kris Neyen is the Dubuque Housing and Community Development Department's rehabilitation program supervisor.

"First and most important is to get the community pride back into the neighborhood," Neyen said, adding the city is "not trying to get rid of rentals, because not everyone needs to be a homeowner or wants to be a homeowner, but to bring (a sense of) ownership back into the neighborhood, whether you're a renter or a homeowner."

It was the HEART Program that gutted the building at 400 East 22nd Street, the property the city bought as the possible location of a future police substation.

"The structure was last owned by a woman who, when the Humane Society came in, they took out over 60 cats," Happ Olson said. "We really found horrific conditions inside. It was absolutely uninhabitable. I don't think anybody had been upstairs for years."

Being part of the HEART Program can be a lot of work at times, but Winger has participated for a year and is now set to graduate high school this spring.

"I honestly don't think I'd be graduating if would've stayed in a normal high school," she said, adding she plans on going to college.

In its 11 years of existence, the HEART Program has taken over more than 30 units of derelict housing and renovated them into what are now 23 owner-occupied homes.

There's already a buyer for the house in the 2000 block of Jackson Street. That's why the renovation there is set to be finished by April.

Plans to turn that building on 22nd Street into a police substation are far from being finalized. However, the city of Dubuque did close on the property just last week, buying it for close to $47,000 using funding from the Bee Branch Creek Restoration Project, as the building sits right alongside a stretch of the project.

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