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ARPA funds to build affordable housing in Omaha-Council Bluffs

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Deborah Van Fleet

(Nebraska News Connection) More affordable housing is coming to a Nebraska market that really needs it. 

An Omaha nonprofit has partnered with the City of Omaha, and was awarded $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act Funds. 

At Front Porch Investments, Executive Director Meridith Dillion said they matched the ARPA funding with philanthropic funds and have already committed $11 million to new housing projects. 

Dillon said she thinks one of the most common misconceptions about affordable housing is that it's only an issue for low-income households.

"And in fact," said Dillon, "all of us, regardless of our income level, are more economically stable and able to contribute to our communities when we don't spend more than 30 percent of our household income on housing costs. So that misconception is, you know, 'Who needs affordable housing?' And we all need affordable housing."

A 2021 study in the Omaha and Council Bluffs area found 100,000 households are in need of affordable housing, but only around 20,000 units exist. 

The federal government defines housing as "affordable" when, including utilities, it consumes 30 percent or less of a household's gross income.

Beyond that, a household is considered "housing-cost burdened," which Dillon said describes roughly 45 percent of renters and 19 percent of homeowners in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area. 

She said another 15 percent of households are severely cost-burdened, meaning housing costs take more than 50 percent of their gross income.

"Both are a strong risk factor for housing instability," said Dillon, "and there's an estimated about 20,000 children that live in those households that are severely cost burdened."

Dillon said this first round of funding supports some projects with exclusively affordable units, and some with mixed-income units, with the Front Porch Investment money supporting the affordable units. 

She added that one project will house seniors and people making less than 80 percent of the area median income. 

And their Greenlining Fund is dedicated to development in areas historically subjected to disinvestment, often through redlining. 

"We continue to see the results of redlining today, in things like low valuation or challenges again in accessing home ownership," said Dillon. "So, the Greenlining Fund is meant to be an intentional investment."