This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
OMAHA — In a rather rare housing twist, a mixed-income neighborhood developing on Omaha’s western edge will offer single-family houses as the more affordable option and apartments as the market-rate component.
“Usually it’s flip-flopped, with the lower income renter and higher income homeowner,” said Kassie Inness, founder of developer Apogee Professional Services. “We thought this was a really cool juxtaposition in the market.”
Soon to rise on 15 acres in the Elkhorn area, the 11 for-sale houses and 149 luxury apartments come via an alliance formed locally between the for-profit Apogee and nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Omaha.
In recounting the origins of the $43 million Capriana project, Inness said she and the Apogee team were frustrated. Despite a desire to build more financially accessible dwellings in a housing-starved Nebraska, they were repeatedly edged out of traditional and increasingly competitive financial incentive programs designed by the government for that purpose.
Business associates introduced Inness to Habitat’s Amanda Brewer, who heads a growing nonprofit funded largely through philanthropic donations. Brewer’s team was feeling similarly irked about insufficient affordable homeownership choices for working-class families across a cross-section of neighborhoods.
The two leaders ventured into what both describe as an unusual housing hybrid, at least in Nebraska and particularly for a more affluent and fast-growth area such as 210th and Emmet Streets, just off the West Maple Road corridor.
Study declares crisis
The Capriana campus is but one example of what housing experts say will be a multi-pronged approach to addressing Nebraska’s Achilles’ heel in retaining workers and attracting others.
A recent study led by the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority that tapped dozens of statewide policymakers and experts declared earlier this year that the state’s economic future hinges on solving the “housing crisis.” The report called for 35,000 new affordable dwellings in the state over the next five years to nudge growth hampered by factors including rising construction costs.
It assigned smaller groups to continue to work on various strategies and identified an overarching goal to cut, by 2028, the share of low- to- moderate-income households paying more than 30% of earnings for rent from about 44% to less than 33%.
Even before the NIFA report, the Legislature called on Nebraska cities to devise respective affordable action plans.
Since the report, the Legislature has fielded proposals to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into programs aimed at both urban and rural areas.
On Tuesday, nonprofits who have long been focused on affordable housing will converge on the State Capitol to meet with state senators and further discuss potential legislation and policies affecting housing supply, tenant protections and homeowner opportunities for a range of populations.
Among the groups will be Front Porch Investments and Spark SCI, both of Omaha; Collective Impact and NeighborhoodWorks, both of Lincoln; and all of Habitat’s Nebraska affiliates.
For Habitat and Apogee, a key to a healthy community is homeownership options for people in areas where they otherwise couldn’t afford to buy.
Enter the Capriana.
Inness said Apogee purchased a “great parcel” amidst bustling residential neighborhoods, near churches and services and in a popular school district.
“We started modeling how this new community could look, with a fully integrated experience,” she said.
The subdivision’s low-rise rental units (dubbed “apartminiums” to nod to luxury condominium living) will span much of the land formerly zoned for agricultural use. Monthly rent for those 149 dwellings are likely to range from $1,300 to $2,500 and include attached garages, Wi-Fi, water and sewer services.
To enable the homeownership component, Apogee plans to sell nine ready-to-build-on lots and donate two other lots to Habitat. The nonprofit plans to build three-bedroom houses, likely to be appraised at $230,000 apiece, which will be offered to families that meet the nonprofit’s homeownership criteria.
‘Looking to be trendsetters’
Capriana’s for-sale houses and for-rent dwellings are designed to gel as one neighborhood, with all residents sharing amenities such as an interactive fitness center and other common area features.
“It is very difficult to build communities at an affordable price point,” said Inness adding that her team has lost a few recent bids for NIFA-administered low income tax credits that provide gap financing to make projects financially feasible.
“So with this partnership,” she said, “we have found an affordable housing expert that has all the fundraising, procedures and infrastructure in place.”
Inness, president of both Apogee and affiliate Metonic Real Estate Solutions, said that while about 40% of their portfolio is dedicated to low-to-moderate income renters, investors expect profitable returns.
“At the same time we are looking to be trendsetters, to help fill the huge deficit in housing and find creative ways to build a sustainable community,” she said.
Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity is eager to address the rising amount of interest and queries it receives regarding homeownership that helps grow family wealth and roots in a community.
Sweat equity, first-time buyer
Participants must meet certain criteria, which include being a first-time homebuyer, participating in workshops and putting “sweat-equity” in building a home. Candidates for the Capriana must have a household income of less than 80% of area median income.
For a family of four, Brewer said, that threshold is about $76,000.
According to the Nebraska Legislative Research Office and Ballotpedia, the Elkhorn-area legislative district represented by State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan contains a residency that’s about 88% white and has a median household income of about $110,000.
“This creates a homeownership opportunity in an area that doesn’t have as many affordable homeownership opportunities,” said Brewer. The neighborhood is expected to be completed by early 2025.
On average, the Capriana houses are expected to appraise at about $230,000. For comparison, Habitat homes in the developing Bluestem Prairie neighborhood of North Omaha appraise at about $189,000.
Brewer expects to open some doors for families headed by teachers, health care employees and church workers. People with qualifying incomes already live in the area, she said, but likely are renting.
Habitat buyers are assisted by programs that include low-income loans, down payment assistance and other financial incentives.
Companies also step up to raise money and literally help construct the houses.
Beyond adding supply to a local housing supply that’s plummeted over the years, Capriana (named after an Italian village) offers opportunity for racial and socioeconomic integration. Advocates say such environments offer a greater range of role models and exposure to job leads.
Unlike some other cities or states, Brewer said, Omaha does not have zoning codes or ordinances mandating a mixed-income ratio in private housing subdivisions or for housing projects that may benefit from a public subsidy such as tax-increment financing.
Still, the Legislature has directed millions of dollars in American Rescue Act Plan funds to housing in lower-income neighborhoods, and lawmakers are considering the addition of even greater amounts to various housing programs.
Brewer and Innis hope to see creative partnerships and models emerge to improve the state’s housing crunch.
“It was magical in how this worked out,” Inness said of forces that joined Apogee and Habitat. “We are hoping it sparks interest from other developers in the future.”
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