This story is part of (DIS)Invested — a longterm Reader investigation into Omaha’s inequities.


Omaha is embarking on a new study to address the city’s lack of affordable housing by finding where problems exist, and how it can fix them. One of the first steps to identifying those issues? Community engagement.

The Omaha Housing Affordability Action Plan’s website went live earlier this week with community meetup dates in each of the seven city council districts and run from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. These open houses start on May 2 and run through May 17. More info for the open houses can be found on the city’s website.

For those who can’t voice their opinion in person, the site also includes a community vision survey, though trying to access that now returns an “Unable to find this survey” message. Derek Miller, manager of comprehensive planning for the city, said the survey is being refined but will be available Monday.

The community engagement portion of the housing action plan, which the city’s website says will last six months, is just one of its four phases. The overall goal is to build a plan that can offer concrete solutions to current housing problems.

“This engagement, along with a thorough analysis of housing-related data, will help create a more complete picture of our current reality in Omaha and ways to improve housing affordability,” reads the city’s housing action plan website. “The results will create the City’s Housing Affordability Action Plan and the Consolidated Plan, both of which will guide our policies for years to come.”

The initiative is a requirement of a 2020 state law requiring Nebraska’s largest cities to submit reports and plans to address affordable housing. In June 2021 the city released a report detailing its approach to zoning, construction, annexation, per-unit cost of housing and a demographic analysis of housing need.

In it they use figures from a recent Omaha Community Foundation report which notes one in four households are spending too much on housing and that the city needs 80,000 units of affordable housing. The report also notes that to afford a two-bedroom unit in the metro area, Omahans need to be making a bare minimum of $19 per hour. Nebraska’s current minimum wage is $9 per hour.

While it’s the most recent study of affordable housing in Omaha, it’s not the only one. In 2018, the city released a regional study of fair housing that totaled nearly 700 pages and included 19 public events for community engagement. That report, though never adopted by the city, also found many of the same disparities in housing affordability.

The city hopes to take all of this past research, along with community input, to inform its final plan.

The overall process will have four phases, according to the city’s website. The first, and current phase, is to analyze current conditions. That includes demographic studies, a housing profile, market assessments and analysis of past planning efforts, land use and other policies. Following the community engagement phase the city will then review strategies and recommendations. Finally the city will draft a final plan for approval by the planning board, city council and mayor. 

No timetable is currently available for the next phases. Omahans can stay involved with the process by subscribing to email updates from the city about this project. 

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Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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