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Legislature appropriates $10 million for workforce housing in rural Nebraska

By Anthony SanFilippo
September 2020

The development of workforce housing has been a target for the Nebraska REALTORS® Association for several years now and they recently were able to secure another boost to real estate development.

In August, the legislature passed a bill that was signed by Gov. Pete Ricketts that appropriates an additional $10 million to a fund earmarked for workforce housing development, as the program continues to succeed several years after its creation.

In 2017, the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act was passed and $7 million in state funds were made available to communities that were able to provide matching funds as part of the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund.

The recent bill, signed into law by the governor, provided a new wave of funds that will be used to address housing shortages in rural communities, which causes a workforce shortage.

“I haven’t been involved in a program that has worked more successfully than this one,” State Sen. Matt Williams, who introduced the bill, told the Scottsbluff Star Herald.

Even with communities required to match an award, available funds appropriated in 2017 were quickly exhausted due to overwhelming response.

“We had over twice the dollar amount applied for as we had funds available, so it was a tremendous success,” Williams said. “The state invested $7 million for those grants and communities invested another $10 million into 14 different projects across the state.”

Workforce housing is geared toward middle income earners and their families who want to be able to live in the neighborhoods where they work. Teachers, nurses, and emergency services personnel are among the dozens of fields that make up this cohort of workers who struggle to find housing they can afford close to where they work.

When that happens, they seek work in other communities where it is more affordable to live, and the impact on the existing community that is experiencing a housing shortage is in a lose/lose situation. It not only impacts the real estate market, sending prices higher and available units becoming more and more scarce, but it also chases workforce employees from the community, which has a negative impact on schools, healthcare, safety and overall quality of life.

Brian Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the Star Herald that housing is an essential part of any workforce plan to attract new workers into the area.

“One issue is we’re not growing our population fast enough,” Slone said. “In many communities across the state, we don’t have enough housing to accommodate the workforce we’re trying to recruit.”

In addition, a report called “Blueprint Nebraska” that was supported by the Chamber, highlighted key initiatives for improving rural areas of the state, one of which was identifying ways to build between 30,000 and 50,000 new homes, either single-family or multi-family.

With Nebraska also experiencing an increase in property taxes, development of new, affordable homes can help stem that tide and grow the economy in a new way.

The influx of funding in 2017 ended up creating grants with local public and municipality partnerships that brought workforce housing developments to communities across the state.

Williams said the first round of investments were responsible for the building of 577 housing units and a total investment nearing $100 million.


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