The Forever North Housing and Multimodal Transportation Strategy became official Tuesday after it was unanimously approved by the Omaha City Council. The plan will guide physical development along the North 24th Street Corridor.
Forever North will prioritize new housing while preventing displacement, and promote a stronger local economy. The plan also cites transportation and walkability, preserving history and culture, and developing community programs as priorities.
The community engagement process for developing Forever North began in 2019, as the city and other community partners met with residents and business leaders. The city began the process to formally memorialize Forever North in 2021, after changes like Metro transit’s designation of 24th Street as the next priority for transportation improvements.
Several North Omaha community leaders spoke in support of the plan. Manne Cook, the city planner who led the Forever North study, said research found there are nearly 100 acres of vacant land in the project area, with demand for 90-195 new housing units per year through 2037.
Cook, who is now the project lead at the nonprofit Spark CDI, said there are several projects already in the works that are a part of the Forever North Strategy, like the North Omaha Trail Project and Culxr House.
“The community has already started to fulfill this strategy,” Cook said. “And any opponents to this strategy would be opponents to how the communities living and working along North 24th Street want to see the area grow.”
Proponents said the community engagement aspect of Forever North should be an example for the city going forward. Dawaune Lamont Hayes, who worked on the steering committee for the Forever North study, said there has been a historical pattern of the city making decisions “about us without us.”
“This type of plan that includes a level of engagement and communication and active strategy across generations, across experiences is something the city of Omaha really needs to take heed,” Hayes said.
Along with Forever North, the City Council approved a redevelopment plan for an area surrounding 24th and Lake Streets. Kelly Johnston-Dorsey from the city’s planning department said Omaha was “getting out of the business of owning property in North Omaha” to allow for private development.
Activist and former U.S. Senate candidate Preston Love Jr. said it was doing development the right way.
“Now I can point to 24th and Lake on the northeast corner and say that’s gonna be a new development,” Love said. “And that’s gonna be a new development from people in our community.”
Opponent Gwen Easter said past development plans have left low-income residents behind by people from outside the community. She said the city’s definition of “affordable housing” isn’t affordable for everyone.
“I’m not against development…but remember us too,” Easter said.
The City Council also approved an amendment to the Downtown Northeast Redevelopment Plan to allow for the sale of land at the former Civic Auditorium site at 1804 Capitol Ave. The plan calls for seven of the site’s nine acres to be sold to a developer for mixed income housing and commercial space. The rest would be retained by the city.
The City of Omaha received another $50 million in funding from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which the city council allocated to Metro Area Continuum of Care for the Homeless (MACCH) Tuesday.
The money was left over from the first round of ERAP funds allocated to the state. Since it went unused, it went back to the U.S. treasury. The treasury then decided to reallocate the money to Omaha.
MACCH has distributed rental assistance for the city since funding first became available last year. Assistant director Lisa Vukov said MACCH has given out more than $37 million to renters. She said they “essentially ran out of money” a few weeks ago.
Kukov said their focus now is to prepare for the “cliff effect” when emergency funding is no longer available. She said they will implement a resource specialist position to help people keep in their homes.
The Tenant Assistance Project — a team of volunteers providing legal assistance to renters facing eviction — has also helped people connect with MACCH for rental assistance. Erin Feichtinger from Together Omaha, one of the TAP’s partner organizations, said more than 300 of the 450 people TAP has helped were connected with the nonprofit. She said many landlords and tenants didn’t know the money was available until they went to eviction court.
“We can do a lot of great things with these funds, things that will allow us to reduce homelessness and make our community stronger and more stable as a result,” Feichtinger said.