$50 million grant to help raze barracks-like Omaha public housing complex

Revamp includes building twice as many apartments

By: - September 14, 2022 4:30 am

A Southside Terrace redevelopment proposal indicates new apartment-commercial structures in pink; smaller apartment buildings in yellow; townhomes in purple and duplexes in blue. (Courtesy of Canopy South)

OMAHA — A $50 million federal grant is to help launch what could be a $300 million makeover of the city’s largest public housing complex and South Omaha neighborhoods that surround it.

Partners involved in the overhaul — the City of Omaha, Omaha Housing Authority, Canopy South and Brinshore Development — have been awaiting word on the Choice Neighborhoods grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development.

(Courtesy of Canopy South)

The Nebraska Examiner learned that the office of U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., received notification Tuesday that Omaha was one of four public housing authorities in four states to receive part of $180 million.

Philanthropists pitch in

Omaha’s allotment, combined with $25 million pledged by the local philanthropic community, will spark long-awaited transformation of the low-income area southeast of 30th and Q Streets, Canopy South’s Cesar Garcia said when contacted Tuesday.

Garcia said that continued fundraising and private development efforts should help reach the estimated $300 million investment likely needed to revitalize the area, which has been set back by historical redlining and other barriers.

Bacon,  said he was impressed most by the private-public alliance and neighborhood input.

“I look forward to watching the progress of this project as it will improve the health, education, economic development and health disparities that residents in that neighborhood face every day,” Bacon said.

OHA’s chief executive, Joanie Poore, said she couldn’t comment until an official announcement, probably later this week. A spokesperson for Mayor Jean Stothert was unavailable Tuesday.

Central to the plan is demolition of Southside Terrace Homes, a barracks-like maze of 360 apartments that today houses roughly 1,300 people.

Discussions have been going on for years about razing and replacing the government-subsidized project, which spans about 10 city blocks and has been described as isolated and stigmatizing for residents.

Garcia said demolition of Southside’s 50 or so brick structures would wait until current residents are safely in other housing. The families will have the option, he said, to move to still-to-be-built, newly constructed dwellings around the edges that will help replace Southside.

Partners in the revitalization effort that includes the Indian Hill neighborhood used an earlier $1.3 million grant to create a plan on how to replace the housing complex, which was built originally in 1940.

Mix of housing styles

Key elements, Garcia said, include construction of 760 new dwellings in the area that will be a mix of styles, from duplexes to larger apartment buildings.

About 360 of the units would be reserved for households with rents subsidized with Section 8 vouchers.

The rest would be “mixed-income” housing, which means that some neighbors would lease their new homes at subsidized rates and others would pay market rents.

The vision is to replace, one-for-one, the Southside units and to build even more housing targeted at higher income levels. That should result in more diversity of tenants and less concentration of poverty. 

“The idea is to include in the neighborhood opportunities for other socioeconomic layers,” Garcia said. “Then you will see a community prospering because you are inserting people that could help bring opportunities for others.”

For example, Garcia said, a store manager living in the area might reach out to an unemployed neighbor about a job opening at his company. “Who helps if everybody is struggling?” he said.

Pivotal to the plan are new structures and services to reach children in preschool, early education and older students. Nonprofits would be lured to the area as well.

The new community is to be modeled after the national Purpose Built Communities approach, which also is reflected in Seventy Five North’s Highlander neighborhood in North Omaha.

‘Need that spark’

Philanthropists helping in that effort include Susie Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation and the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation.

Garcia cited the East Lake neighborhood in Atlanta as a similar project that appears to have had success.

“That community has grown from one of the most violent or marginalized to a community that is vibrant, full of opportunity, with a great education system.”

He said South Omaha already has a good foundation to build upon.

“We have all the other tools: the entrepreneurial spirit; the desire to continue growing. We come, in general, as a community of immigrants with that desire to have better lives.

“We just need that spark, financially.”

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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.