Omaha, Lincoln joint-city council meeting highlights affordable housing

The cities’ leaders also discussed climate change, mass transit, and ideas on where to spend American Rescue Plan funds.
WOWT 6 News Live at 6:30
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 5:22 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Leaders from Nebraska’s two largest cities collaborated on Tuesday in an effort to fix some of their biggest problems.

From public transportation to climate change and affordable housing, Omaha and Lincoln officials shared ideas for what’s working and what’s not.

The six-hour session between city leaders was seemingly a productive one.

“I think it’s important for our cities to learn from each other and work together,” said Pete Festersen, Omaha City Council president. “We do this every two years.”

Affordable housing was one topic of enormous interest.

The number is daunting: the city of Omaha estimates that it is 80,000 units short on affordable housing.

Dan Marvin, director of Lincoln’s Urban Development, shared his city’s best practices to fill the gaps, which includes a lot of data to help guide those choices.

For example, he questions whether the notion that affordable housing works best in older parts of a city.

“I think we need to ask the question, ‘Is that the appropriate place for new affordable housing? But is that the only?’ I think we need a broader vision for how we develop our community,” Marvin said. “It should be more diverse and inclusive across the city.”

Lincoln’s affordable housing action plan also tries to tackle deeper questions that could potentially change the health of a city for the better.

“One of the things the mapping program will tell you is if you live here versus here, you will live 20 years less,” Marvin said. “Your life expectancy is 20 years shorter, and it’s only 80 blocks from the heart of the city.”

During the hour-long discussion of affordable housing, council members and city planners debated the merits of incentives and whether or not to require developers to include a certain percentage of units to be affordable.

“We have twin goals,” Marvin said. “We cant to create additional housing units, we also want to think about where they are located to give our citizens the best outcomes we can give them.”

City leaders also debated how to approach the millions of dollars coming in from the American Rescue Plan and the best practices for helping people with rent.

After all, Omaha still sees 150 renters a week who are going to eviction court.

Climate actions plan discussions also took place. Lincoln has a plan, Omaha is still working on one.

However, they still share similar goals. Both cities aim to convert all of the cities’ vehicle fleets to electric or renewables in 20 years, they also want to increase energy efficiency in city buildings so they’re carbon neutral in 15 years.

6 News asked Omaha’s Council President whether it could work.

“Not just the city of Omaha, but its employers,” Festersen said. “So if the city is setting an example and leading the way, everyone will participate and that’s what it will take.”

The bottom line: No one left the joint-city council meeting with all the answers but instead left with a number of ideas to debate internally — not just on affordable housing, but also climate change, mass transit, and best practices on where to spend the money from the American Rescue Plan.

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