Omaha City Council, local organizations push to combat affordable housing crisis

WOWT 6 News Live at 6:30
Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 7:00 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Strides are being made to further combat the affordable housing crisis the Omaha-metro is facing.

On Tuesday, Omaha City Council approved a resolution asking the city planning department to create an Affordable Housing Action Plan by January of 2023. But this isn’t the only step being taken by the community to try to provide affordable housing to Omaha and Council Bluffs community members.

“When we know that folks that are serving our community, whether that’s firefighters, teachers, front line responders, when they can’t afford to live in the communities they serve, when we know that folks moving into the area can’t find safe and affordable housing that matches not being cost burdened, it becomes a crisis,” says Naomi Hattaway, the Director of Operations at Front Porch Investments.

The new organization was created following a shocking report that showed the growing gap in affordable housing in the area.

The report estimates that Omaha needs 80,000-100,000 affordable units to meet the need.

And besides the gap in supply, Front Porch Investments creators realized there was a need to connect those working toward the same goal. They now hope to be the one-stop-shop for all things affordable housing.

“It’s not that we’re coming up with something that is brand new to the region, it’s things that are happening across the country,” Hattaway tells 6 News. “But what we knew needed to be done locally was to kind of catalyze the work that’s already being done by developers, non profit agencies, our funding sources and just convene, collaborate and start making more smart and efficient decisions.”

The organization will develop and launch two funds, one of them a preservation and development fund to help get more affordable housing projects off the ground, while still maintaining already existing affordable and available housing.

The second fund will be the “greenlining” fund, which will directly impact community members who were impacted by redlining in the 1950s and 60s. The mortgage industry at the tome identified certain locations in different cities that they deemed were not good investments for mortgages, specially in north and south Omaha. The greenlining fund will bring forward the voices of those impacted or those historically left out of affordable housing conversations.

Affordable housing developer Ryan Durant, president of the RMD Real Estate Group, says an organization like this will only help move the conversation forward.

“I think collaboration between for-profit, non-profit and government is the key to getting any of this stuff done,” Durant says.

Front Porch Investments aims to create partnerships between different sectors, stakeholders and policy makers.

“We’ve got the political will with our elected officials but they can’t be expected to know everything about affordable housing and ending homelessness, it’s a wildly complex ecosystem,” says Hattaway. “So Front Porch also exists to help with that conversation about what kind of policy would be needed to make sure that anything we’re doing that catalyzes our community with funding also has some policy around it to make sure it sticks.”

“You know, 80,000 units is a lot of units to address so to have something like that in place is going to be definitely monumental to addressing the housing concerns in our communities,” Durant says.

He also says that right now is as good a time as any to have these conversations.

“One of the biggest challenges we have currently are costs. Construction costs have risen 30-40%, on a typical year you’d see a three or 4% increase.”

Durant’s company is about to begin developing 48 affordable housing apartments on 25th and Chandler in Sarpy County.

“It will be a mix of three and four-bedroom units,” he says. The goal is to help replenish the affordable units in Sarpy County that were destroyed in the 2019 March flooding.

But, Durant says a handful of his 600 affordable units across the metro area are still waiting to be rehabbed or completed to allow families to move in. The missing piece always comes back to one thing: funding.

“We’re hoping funds coming in through the American Rescue Act, some other sources, some non-profits, that we can hopefully fill these gaps and get these housing units for some of Omaha’s most vulnerable populations,” he says.

City council’s push for an Affordable Housing Action Plan could help with these issues, and dividing the nearly $20 million the metro area is expected to get from the American Rescue Act.

The same goes for Front Porch Investments.

“Thinking of the American Rescue Plan dollars for example, how can we make sure that we leverage and catalyze that dollar amount, match it with other public and private funds to really make sure Omaha and Council Bluffs are seeing the impact of that,” Hattaway says.

“What we’re trying to answer the call for is how we can providing some kind of funding gap for developers, if were asking them to make sure there’s affordable units in their developments or even if we go one step further and ask that those units be fully accessible, we often hear back, ‘but that’s expensive,” she says. “Rising construction costs are hitting everybody and so front porch wants to try to identify where we can slot in with some of that gap funding.”

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