Rural Nebraska hopes to attract businesses to boost local economies, but have found it difficult to overcome one particular problem.
“The problem is the largest obstacle to rural economic development right now is the lack of workforce housing,” State Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg tells Nebraska Radio Network.
Williams says there is a lack of mid-ranged price housing in rural Nebraska. He says there simply needs to be more housing for workers recruiting to jobs in the rural parts of the country.
Williams succeeded this past legislative session in pushing Legislative Bill 518 to passage. The bill, entitled the “Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act,” will create grants to support the development of workforce housing. Competitive grants will be awarded to non-profit agencies to subsidize the construction of workforce housing on a dollar-for-dollar matching basis. The money will be taken from the Department of Economic Development’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Money not used will be returned to the fund.
This is not low-income housing, Williams emphasizes. He says the bill seeks to help the construction in rural Nebraska of single-family housing ranging in price from $150,000 to $275,000. It also can be used to build rental units valued up to $200,000.
Williams says the grant could help offset the cost of building in rural Nebraska now at around $150 a square foot.
“The developers, for instance, in Omaha or the developers out of Denver that can do these houses, can do them for about $100 a square foot and that makes us not very competitive in our rural areas,” according to Williams.
Williams failed to get another measure through the Unicameral aimed at boosting the workforce housing stock in rural Nebraska. LB 496, which would have allowed the use of Tax Increment Financing to build rural workforce housing, could not overcome a filibuster. It bogged down in an unusual rural vs. rural fight in the legislature with enough rural senators philosophically opposed to the use of TIF for housing construction to keep the bill from moving forward.
Williams says he will bring the measure back next session.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]