Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Omaha Newspaper: Time To Tackle Nebraska's Rural Housing Shortage

Even the newspaper editors in Omaha understand how bad the rural housing situation is.

For some time, this blog has reported on the housing shortage negatively impacting small communities like Dorchester.  

We've also reported that between Dorchester's two major employers -- Farmers Co-op and Dorchester Public School -- fewer than 20 of approximately 100 employees live in Dorchester.

The problem is three-fold:
  • After the Great Recession, the only developers and home builders left standing are those focusing on high-income housing or huge apartments in large cities.  The average new home in America last year cost over $450,000.  In our area, the only homes going up in recent years have been those in the $350,000-and-over range. This is not middle-class housing for young families -- or at least shouldn't be.
  • Our property tax system, which levies taxes based on valuations, offer no incentive for property owners to sell or renovate abandoned and/or neglected properties.
  • Many rural communities -- like Dorchester -- have no housing plan.  How is a developer or home builder to know there's a demand for new homes or housing renovation if the community doesn't inform them? As a community banker in Lincoln wrote last year: "In many communities, a large portion of the housing stock is pre-1950. ... Proactive community leadership must become involved to solve this issue."
Anyway, here's an excerpt of what the Omaha World-Herald's March 21 editorial has to say about rural Nebraska's housing shortage:
It’s a lament found in rural communities across Nebraska: We’ve got the jobs to be filled — but not enough housing to meet workers’ needs. Courtney Dentlinger, director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, calls the housing shortage “a critical economic development issue in rural areas of our state.” A Nebraska Bankers Association task force lists various factors behind the shortage, including too few contractors and tradespeople; limited lot availability; escalating costs of new construction; and down payment shortfalls.
The editorial spotlights Legislative Bill 518 that could  help address rural Nebraska's housing shortage with a $10.3 million grant program.
LB 518 is intended to take a one-time withdrawal of unused funds to encourage housing for Nebraskans whose income is above the level considered for affordable housing assistance but who still run into roadblocks in trying to find housing.
The Dorchester Times staff is fully aware that an Omaha World-Herald editorial or $10 million grant program won't really do much for Dorchester's housing crunch.  But they do help us continue this conversation.

Ultimately, if anything is to happen on housing in our community, it will take serious effort on everyone's part, from elected leaders, school officials, investors, developers, builders, businesses and lenders.  Maybe a it will take a group of younger families and individuals who, together, just decide to build on spare lots or renovate dilapidated homes.

It will take hard work, some risk and dollars.  Wishing and hoping won't get the job done.

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