Innovative housing ideas are “Shot in the Arm” for Nebraska communities
Housing – an integral component of economic development- has increased in importance in recent years, especially in rural areas. Without adequate housing, communities can’t grow and companies can’t attract workers.
Across Nebraska, many communities are taking the initiative to develop innovative programs to address the issue. By offering free lots and down payment assistance to incentivizing developers through rebates and the use of tax increment financing for infrastructure these communities are taking control of their futures.
“A rural town without an active housing program is in serious trouble, says Chris Anderson, city administrator, of Central City. “Your housing market is your most accurate indicator of the future growth of your community.”
Anderson should know. Central City, with a population shy of 3,000, has been active in the housing field for over ten years starting a free lot program in 2005 and giving away about twenty-five lots to date. The community acquires dilapidated housing, demolishes them and puts them into the free lot program. In addition, they have been aggressive in using tax increment financing for multiple housing projects, including two subdivisions that involved man-made lakes and created 57 new lots. The private sector has also participated with the formation of Central City Homebuilders, LLC, a for-profit entity which has built approximately 20 speculative homes.
In North Platte, population 24,246, the city and chamber spur the development of speculative homes with their “Shot in the Arm” housing incentive program.
An $8,000 incentive basically replenishes the approximate amount in sales tax dollars contractors pay for materials to construct the homes. A developer must commit to a minimum of building four homes to qualify for the program.
In a short period of time, all $344,000 of the incentive fund was pledged to different developers, who committed to building 43 housing structures. Ten of those are townhomes (duplexes) raising the total to 48 units.
A fall 2017 deadline prompted contractors to be in the “drywall stage” to qualify for the incentive. To date, all but four housing units are in the incentive stage, and the remaining are progressing forward. Most of the completed homes have sold.
“The North Platte ‘Shot in the Arm’ program has been hailed as a successful innovative approach and has received significant statewide publicity,” said Gary Person, President and CEO of the North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corporation. “ It illustrates a community has to be a part of the housing shortage solution and indicates that even a little bit of financial incentive assistance motivates developers. Sustaining successful housing developments in rural Nebraska remains one of any community’s greatest challenges and is the most critical factor in maintaining existing population and eventually attaining economic growth.
An hour and a half southeast in Holdrege, population 5,650, the Phelps County Development Corporation (PCDC) recently rolled out its 3-part GO! HOME housing stimulus program.
GO! HOME includes an employer down payment match, a sales tax rebate to contractors on new home construction, and the “Phoenix” program, designed to reinvigorate existing neighborhoods. This program allows PCDC to acquire and develop lots in existing neighborhoods and convey them to contractors or home buyers and to assist in the demolition and redevelopment of lots.
“Housing is fundamental to retain existing or attract new employees. Many Phelps County employees commute from a distant location and take their paychecks home, which constitutes a lost opportunity for our communities while posing a challenge for employers.” said Ron Tillery, Executive Director, Phelps County Development Corporation. “We have to be creative and bold to solve this growing problem.
These are only a few stories from across Nebraska demonstrating Nebraska’s communities, large and small, are working to meet their housing needs with private and public sector programs and local, state and federal resources. They believe in their future and are benefiting from investing in themselves.
The communities of Central City, Holdrege, and North Platte are all wholesale electric customers of NPPD.