Two things really define a small town -- the character of its people and the quality of its housing.
With that in mind, here's a statistic that should concern Dorchester residents: Nearly 13% of housing units in the community are unoccupied, according to data collected by Sperling's Best Places.
Some are empty because elderly residents recently passed or are in nursing homes. Some are neglected properties that have been vacant for some time.
We've said it before: Nothing is harder on a town than unoccupied homes -- especially deteriorating, hazardous properties (residential and commercial).
The good news is Dorchester has a lot of hard-working, involved residents who are making positive change.
The bad news is we need more people to help in order to speed up the progress. It can happen.
And that positive change should be focused squarely on housing and bringing new, young families to Dorchester. Young families need to be told about all the benefits of living here, from lower taxes, lower housing costs, safer conditions, and better education.
Meanwhile, the strong majority of Dorchester homeowners are working very hard to improve their properties. (See our story on recent home improvements throughout town.) What's more, home price appreciation in Dorchester is up 5.40% over the last year.
Dorchester homes are a source of pride for the vast majority of our town's residents. That is why it is unfair when a handful of severely deteriorating properties (such as the home pictured above, at 8th and Jefferson) threaten either the health of residents or the investments of nearby homeowners.
Here are steps we can all take, as individuals, to make Dorchester even better when it comes to housing:
- Ask Town Representatives To Look At A Blight Tax And Fees On Vacant Properties: We think all town residents should ask Dorchester Village Board members to consider a blight tax and fee on abandoned properties in town. (Of course, exceptions would need to be made for properties owned by residents in long-term care and in extreme cases of hardship.) Keep in mind that a recent Times survey of readers found that 64% supported the blight tax concept and another 14% said the village board should at least obtain legal counsel and consider whether such a tax makes sense. But village board members need to hear from residents.
- Gather Willing Investors And Get A Plan For New Housing Options: Individuals are needed to invest in Dorchester's housing, whether as residents or investors. This includes DHS alumni, families with ties to our town, farmers, business owners, school staff -- they can collaborate and craft a long-term housing plan for Dorchester. Maybe a townhouse or duplex development makes more sense in our small town today? Perhaps apartments? Those looking for expert housing help can get it from the Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD), to study best practices, success stories, programs and ideas implemented by towns of our size.
- Incentives For School Staff To Make A Home In The Community That Provides Their Salary: The school board could consider providing financial incentives for faculty to reside in town. This makes sense since every teacher and administrator is paid with district property tax dollars. While homes are rarely for sale in town, there are plenty of homes that could be renovated if owners had reason to sell. And lots are currently available to build. Renting is also a possibility, since renters make up 20.91% of the Dorchester population, according to new Census data.
- Get Help For Those Homeowners In Dire Need: Nebraska USDA Rural Development recently announced that USDA is seeking applications for grants to make housing repairs for low- and very-low-income rural residents. The grants are being provided through USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program. For those who truly need financial assistance with home repairs, call USDA's Nebraska office at 402-437-5563.