Habitat for Humanity to muscle up affordable housing efforts in Omaha area

ARPA funds bolster nonprofit focused on homeownership

By: - December 28, 2022 5:45 am

Domonique Hernandez and her family of Omaha celebrate the dedication of their new home, which the family purchased with assistance from Habitat for Humanity. (Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha)

OMAHA — Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, boosted by donations and $4 million in federal pandemic recovery funds, plans to build or rehab about 400 houses for lower income families over the next four years.

The nonprofit expects to invest more than $200 million by the end of 2026 in housing programs — almost double the amount from the previous four years, said Chief Executive Officer Amanda Brewer.

Volunteers help build a house to be purchased by a family participating in Habitat for Humanity programming. (Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha)

“We understand the enormous effort it’s going to take from all of us,” Brewer said. “These ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan Act) will position the organization to serve more families in the community.”

Conversation amplified

Habitat’s accelerated effort comes at a time when community discussion about affordable housing may be at a local high, pushed in part by rising rents and housing costs.

Conversation spiked last week when city officials condemned a 408-unit apartment complex in northwest Omaha, sending occupants of about 165 units scrambling at the holidays. City leaders said they could not wait, given what they said were dangerous conditions.

According to a new report by online real estate company Rent., whose website is rent.com, Nebraska saw the fifth-largest increase in median rents among states this past year. The median sale price of a house in the Omaha and Lincoln areas, meanwhile, grew nearly 12% this year compared to last year, according to the Great Plains Regional multiple listing service.

Huskers in Top 5 for rent rise

Nebraska’s median rent went up 14.5% in the past year,  according to the online real estate company called Rent.

The company’s latest report shows that, for year-over-year median rent increases, only New York, Florida, South Dakota and Arkansas ranked above Nebraska.

Findings come from analyzing available inventory within the Rent. network. The company until recently was known as RentPath. It still operates under the rent.com web site, and is affiliated with Redfin, Rentals.com and ApartmentGuide. Its web site says it connects property owners and managers with nearly 50 million renters each month.

In Habitat’s multi-year plan through 2026 called Transformative Change, the agency lays out goals that include building or completely renovating some 400 houses to be purchased by working families who meet certain eligibility requirements and typically contribute sweat equity.

“Habitat believes homeownership offers permanent stability for a family,” Brewer said.

The organization said it plans to repair more than 1,000 homes and prepare about 600 families and individuals for homeownership through its programming.

Subdivisions in the works

Habitat today is in various stages of developing three housing subdivisions in Douglas County and one in Sarpy County, totaling over 60 acres upon which most of the new homes will be built. 

The $4 million in ARPA funds is to be focused at one of the Douglas County sites: the new, $25 million Bluestem Prairie neighborhood, Brewer said. That housing development is to sprout on a long-vacant North Omaha site once occupied by the neglected and subsidized Wintergreen Apartments.

(Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha)

Habitat, based at 1701 N. 24th St., also is exploring its own future needs with an eye toward expanding its headquarters to meet growing demand, said Brewer. 

A sign of that demand: Since mid-October, when Habitat started accepting online homeownership eligibility forms online, it has received more than 900 potential applications looking for affordable options, a spokewoman said.

Brewer said donors and fundraising are stepping up to meet growing demand. Earlier this year, Habitat was surprised with an $11 million grant from national philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

ARPA funds leverage millions more

Habitat also was the biggest winner of 10 Omaha programs selected to receive a portion of $20 million in ARPA funds set aside by the Nebraska Legislature specifically for affordable housing in Omaha. 

That and another $20 million of ARPA funds for Lincoln housing projects was earmarked in Legislative Bill 1024, also known as the Economic Recovery Act adopted earlier this year.

A house built by Habitat for Humanity and purchased by an Omaha family. (Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Omaha)

The $40 million is referred to as the Qualified Census Tract Affordable Housing Program, meaning the funds are to be aimed at census tracts that serve households making less than area median income. ARPA funds are intended to respond to the negative impacts of the pandemic. 

Omaha’s $20 million is to leverage $75.6 million from other funding sources to create or preserve 552 housing units, 481 of which are to be income-restricted, according to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

The department said that Lincoln’s $20 million is to leverage $125.7 million from other sources to create or preserve 703 housing units, 542 of which are to be income-restricted. 

As per ARPA regulations, the grant funds must be spent by the end of 2026.

Omaha-Lincoln recipients:

Omaha grants:

Canopy South, $1.25 million

Civic Corner LLC, $2.175 million

Habitat for Humanity of Omaha, $4 million

Holy Name Housing Corp., $2.4 million 

inCOMMON Community Development Corp., $2.25 million

Omaha Economic Development Corp., $1.25 million

Omaha Municipal Land Bank, $1.25 million

Seventy Five North Revitalization Corp., $2 million

Woodling Development Corp., $1.25 million

Youth Emergency Services Inc., $2.175 million

Lincoln grants: 

City of Lincoln, $3.6 million

Hoppe & Son LLC, $4.6 million

Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, $600,000

M&G Holdings LLC, $225,000

Mural Nebraska, $3 million

Nebraska Housing Resource, $234,850

NeighborWorks Lincoln, $1.09 million 

New Generation Properties LLC, $3.25 million

South of Downtown  Community Development Organization, $315,848

Union at Antelope Valley GP LLC, $3 million

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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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