Public spaces, city employees and affordable housing targeted for Omaha ARPA spending

By: - June 21, 2022 7:54 pm
Hitchcock pool

Hitchcock Park pool facility near 45th and Q Streets is among public spaces that would be upgraded with ARPA funding allocated to Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

The City of Omaha’s full-time employees, minus elected officials, are to get a $3,000 boost this year in their paychecks. 

Nearly 15 city parks, pools and other public spaces are to be spiffed up.

And a new housing manager is to be hired to oversee the growing amount of affordable housing yet to be created with a recent influx of public and private dollars.

Those are some of the ways Omaha plans to spend its latest allocation of American Rescue Plan Act funds, Mayor Jean Stothert announced Tuesday.

The COVID-related federal act put $112,591,455 into the city’s coffers. An earlier infusion came in May 2021; the other $56 million came this month.

Stothert held a news conference to lay out spending plans for the second half that are to be forwarded to the City Council for review and approval.

“The primary use of ARPA funds is for local governments to replace revenue losses though 2023,” said Stothert, adding that about $31 million will go for that purpose.

However, she said, the ARPA funds also can be used to support community programs, respond to pandemic impacts and promote economic recovery.

“The programs we have created and funded are especially important and will have communitywide benefits,” Stothert said.

Employee pay bump

Areas to gain the most from the latest funding round are affordable housing, public spaces and employee pay.

A $20 million affordable housing allotment from the city’s ARPA funds is to be matched by nonprofit Front Porch Investments and its philanthropic partners, which already are working to fulfill goals identified in a housing affordability report released last year. 

The city also plans to request $20 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. And Stothert said another $20 million could be coming from the State of Nebraska’s ARPA allocation.

She said that total so far makes affordable housing the city’s largest program funded with ARPA dollars.

Meridith Dillon, Front Porch executive director, told reporters the “crisis” requires a collective effort.

Meridith Dillon, Front Porch Investments executive director  (Courtesy of Kamrin Baker)

“Fortunately, we are seeing the urgency of our community’s housing needs being met with support from stakeholders across our community,” she said. 

Must spend by 2026

ARPA funds must be spent by 2026. The housing funds are to be deployed in various ways to promote local affordable housing, generally defined as rent or mortgages and related housing expenses that aren’t more than 30% of a family’s income.

Developers and organizations, for instance, will be able to apply for grants and short-term loans aimed at increasing and preserving housing options for lower income individuals and families.

Funds also might be used to buy or prepare property or to support down payment assistance.

Applications for funding are to be available in August via Front Porch. They’ll be vetted and reviewed by a committee and likely announced in November.

Stothert said the plan to allocate $9 million to fund premium pay for police, fire and civilian employees stemmed from a request by the Omaha Police Union.

She said city leaders, however, felt it was not fair to give a pandemic-related boost to just one city employee group and therefore broadened the scope.

“This was our way of saying thank you,” she said, adding that first responders provided critical emergency services and civilian employees were essential to maintaining the continuity of city functions and infrastructure.

The mayor and City Council members are not eligible for the $3,000 that will be payable to each employee over several pay periods starting in late July.

Public concerns, wishes

The roughly $10 million to be allocated for parks and public spaces is rooted in a recent public survey that asked Omahans about top concerns and wishes, said Stothert.

Hitchcock Pool boys jumping off diving board
Hitchcock Park pool near 45th and Q Streets would see improvements via ARPA funding allocated to Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

“These projects have the chance to create new experiences for the next generation of park users and keep up with the change in use patterns we have seen over the past two years,” said Parks Director Matt Kalcevich.

Other ARPA recipients announced Tuesday include $1 million for Omaha Business Improvement Districts. Districts will be invited to submit proposals later this year for the competitive funding.

The homeless services coordinator position, new to the Mayor’s Office, would receive $200,000 and after two years is to become part of the general fund budget. 

The housing manager spot, funded at $225,000 over two years, is to oversee implementation of the city’s affordable housing action plan.

The earlier round of ARPA funding was directed at areas including hotels and community organizations, Stothert said.

She said the city hired Deloitte to review all proposed spending. City Council approval is necessary.

Other requests for the ARPA dollars are still being reviewed and Stothert said she expects to make an announcement on further ARPA allocations later.

Parks, plazas and public spaces tapped for a revival via Omaha ARPA funds:

Juvenile Justice Center Plaza, downtown Omaha, $700,000.

Plaza de la Raza Square, South 24th and N Streets, $500,000.

Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 3706 Maple St., $75,000.

Dreamland Park, 24th and Lizzie Robinson Drive, $75,000.

Mandan Park, 6215 S. 13th St., $1 million.

Fontenelle Park, 4407 Fontenelle Blvd., $750,000.

Pipal Park, 7770 Hascall St., $1 million.

Lynch Park, 2200 S. 21st St., $3 million.

Paxton-John Creighton Boulevard Trail, $1 million.

Elmwood Pool, 606 S. Happy Hollow Blvd., $400,000.

Hitchcock Pool, 5025 S. 45th St., $1 million.

Benson Community Center, 6008 Maple St., $750,000.

Memorial Park, 6005 Underwood Ave., $150,000.

Clarkson Park, 124 N. 42nd St., $75,000.

 

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

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