By: Melissa McElroy

After months of discussion and deliberation, the Omaha City Council in December voted to pass The Housing Affordability Action Plan (HAAP) on a 5-2 vote. It targets Omaha’s current housing shortage, specifically affordable housing for low to middle-income households. Affordable housing was defined as spending no more than 30% of one’s gross income on housing.

The plan takes aim at “Missing Middle” housing types, such as duplexes and multi-family homes. Omaha was awarded millions in federal grant dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), LB 1024, as well as local philanthropists, for affordable housing construction, rehabilitation, land acquisition,  infrastructure, and site development.

The Omaha Area Board of REALTORS® is proud to be a founding member of the Welcome Home Coalition, which impacted portions of the final action plan. The Coalition reminded the City Council that 23.8 percent of a new home’s final cost is related to government regulations. Finding ways to reduce the cost of those barriers will be critical to filling the shortage of new starter homes.

Concerns were voiced by local property owners and managers regarding the mention of rent control in the plan. City Councilmember Aimee Melton, one of two dissenting votes on the proposal, also expressed the same concern over verbiage in the plan. During the City Council meeting, she stated, “We literally had the planning department admit they weren’t suggesting rent control, yet this council just voted to keep that rent control language in there.”

When interviewed after the plan passed, City Councilmember Don Rowe said, “The bottom line, many people thought passing the plan meant it was going to be policy or law immediately.” He underscored that it was a plan not set in stone, and it could be refined before becoming law. “There was a lot of information gathered from the community for the plan. There were meetings in every district,” Rowe explained, adding that an action plan needed to be passed by the end of the year according to state law. He is confident that the city will be able “to address concerns and come to some kind of compromise,” when it is implemented. Rowe commented on its benefits, such as changing zoning laws so some vacant lots currently deemed too small could be used to build duplexes and smaller homes. It could also mean that people of different income levels could reside in the same neighborhood if there were different sized homes. “Ultimately, we want to eliminate the homeless population. Increasing the density on land also helps with the affordability issue.”

Greg Paskach, from the City of Omaha Planning Department, said, “No single action plan can address every issue. The housing plan is a good starting point. We need action across several fronts.” He explained that the first way to address the housing shortage would be to “modify zoning laws to give developers a little more flexibility.” The second involves preservation. An estimated 65% of the area’s housing is 40 years old or older. “It’s cheaper to repair existing structures than to build all new ones.” The third front? Neighborhood stabilization efforts; making more affordable housing available to people of all incomes. While it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy, Paskach said the plan “has a broad appeal and a balance of things.” Namely, to make things easier for builders and to make housing more affordable.