Housing crisis

Omaha housing crisis creates barrier for displaced tenants

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) – It’s been nearly two months since residents of Flora Apartments were told they would have to leave the unlivable conditions there. Since then, Together Omaha has been working to find them a permanent home. But they hit a roadblock because of Omaha’s housing crisis.

Nearly half of families still stay in hotels paid for by Together Omaha. Together also pays for things like food while they scout potential homes for tenants to move into.

Together will also cover moving costs for people who had to leave their homes suddenly at the end of January without having time to prepare for a move.

In total, the nonprofit is considering costs of around $80,000; they have already raised $60,000 for the project.

“What could be a problem with that number is if hotel stays drag on to 60 or 90 days,” said Mike Hornacek, president and CEO of Together Omaha.

They also replaced personal ID cards and birth certificates that some residents left behind in their hasty departures.

“Residents, with the exception of a handful, had to start from scratch,” Hornacek said. “If you don’t have ID and you don’t have a birth certificate, you can’t get anything. You can’t apply for benefits. You can’t apply for a job. You can’t get a hotel room.”

Together, Omaha has most of the money and the right paperwork, but what they don’t have is enough affordable housing in Omaha to move families there.

“When the average rent in Omaha right now is around $950 and most people who lived in the Flora were paying between $750 and $850 — and that was probably pushing the high end of what they could afford — you can do the math very quickly and see that it doesn’t work,” Hornacek said. “So if you have a resident who has to pay rent. $650 to $750 at most, the number of units he has access to among all the rental units is really small.”

Omaha needs approximately 80,000 affordable housing units to meet the needs of its citizens.

Hornacek said the city, county and state need to think about what incentives they can offer developers to create affordable housing and start closing this growing gap.

“A lot of us are ready to engage in conversation,” Hornacek said. “We just need to understand how it works mathematically so that it benefits everyone involved and a nonprofit, developer, or investor/financier isn’t left to foot the bill.”

Another hurdle Together Omaha faces is finding habitable units for Flora’s former tenants.

The former Flora families have just moved out of homes where some units had no heat, no water, exposed electrical wires, missing doors and other unlivable conditions. Together, Omaha wants to find units that fall far short of those levels of neglect.

“It’s the perfect example of what happens when you have a huge shortage of affordable housing because you have a landlord, a landlord, who gets away with these conditions because the residents don’t have another choice,” said Hornacek. “It was the only place they could go and they could afford. If we had more units then landlords and landlords like this wouldn’t get away with it because people wouldn’t choose to live in these conditions.

People who want to help Together Omaha support these families can do so by donating or volunteering.

11 tenants are currently negotiating a settlement with the help of a pro bono attorney against their former landlord, Bill Stanek.

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