The Omaha City Council approved three new tax-increment financing (TIF) plans during Tuesday’s meeting, and delayed voting on a special-use permit for a transitional home for previously incarcerated women.
TIF is a tool the city uses to promote development, and a project site needs to be in a “blighted” and “substandard” area to qualify for a loan. The city council approved a $515,000 loan for a commercial project in Blackstone, despite criticism from residents who don’t see the area as blighted.
Larry Storer, who opposed the plan, said he lived in the area when he was in college. He said he didn’t think the area was blighted back then, and Blackstone has seen a lot of development in recent years.
“Quite frankly if I lived in North Omaha, a lot of places, those are a lot more severely blighted than anywhere I’ve lived in, but I don’t hear about the projects going up there,” Storer said.
Sarah Johnson, a member of transit advocacy group Mode Shift Omaha and a former Omaha City Council candidate, said another TIF loan approved Tuesday — a $1 million loan for Habitat for Humanity to construct 26 affordable single-family homes in North Omaha — was a better use of the development tool.
A $2.3 million TIF loan for a 59-unit affordable housing project at 19th and Farnam streets was also approved Tuesday as a part of the city council’s consent agenda.
The City of Omaha received a $403,708 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Development to address housing instability. The city council approved $167,487 for Siena Francis House and $45,000 for the Stephen Center to provide shelter for the homeless, and $68,221 each for rapid re-housing programs by Heartland Family Service and Together. Councilmember Brinker Harding said these items are important coming into the holiday season.
“These are needed services for our citizens, and I hope that we can all be in the giving spirit if we can afford to be,” Harding said.
Councilmember Juanita Johnson made a motion to delay a special-use permit for New Beginnings, a small group home for disabled women who have been incarcerated, which was passed 5-2. Johnson said although she supported the home, she wanted to hear feedback from the community near 60th and Grand avenues.
The owner, Linda Davis, said she reached out to neighbors and posted a QR code for a Zoom meeting to address any issues, but no one attended. Counclmember Johnson said that was concerning.
Councilmember Harding, who voted against delaying the permit, said Davis followed the proper process for notifying neighbors. Joining him in voting no, Council Aimee Melton said the home’s service is much needed.
The home houses six women at a time for an average of 84 days, Davis said. There are few transitional homes geared specifically towards women. She said they don’t kick anybody out, and they help women find housing, jobs and educational opportunities.
Davis said the home has already been in operation for a year, but she needs a special-use permit since there is another small-group home within 600 feet of her property. She said the city council can speak with her neighbors who have lived next to the property during that time.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to receive a monthly report from corrections director Mike Myers, and a weekly COVID-19 update from health director Lindsay Huse.
Staff attrition is an ongoing issue for Douglas County Corrections, as Myers reported that nine staff members retired in October while eight graduated from the training academy.
“The labor market has been tight and our classes have gotten smaller,” Myers said. “We’re hoping for a little bit better luck towards the end of the month.
Mental illness is prevalent in the correctional facility. Myers reported that more than 35% of inmates are diagnosed with a mental illness. The county board made mental health a priority for spending ARPA funds.
Myers said the government spends “a lot of resources to keep things the same.” Meyers said he’s eager to find a way to keep mentally ill individuals out of the correctional facility, because the status quo is unacceptable.
About a third of inmates who are denied house arrest are denied because they are homeless.
“I think what that does is draw attention to what we need to do to stabilize people to keep them out of the correction system,” Commissioner Maureen Boyle said. “Because not only is that bad for the individual, but it’s bad for the taxpayers.”
The board approved an agreement with Deb Anderson to consult with the county on ARPA spending on mental health.
Douglas County Health Director Lindsay Huse reported that COVID-19 cases are rising again. She urged masking and vaccinations to keep people out of the hospital as flu season approaches.
“While we were cautiously optimistic in previous weeks presenting this data, I really wanted to make sure that I was expressing concern today,” Huse said. “We kind of have a convergence of a lot of things besides COVID that are all kind of mixing to create a really bad situation for our hospitals.”
The hospital occupancy rate never lowered when cases did, she said, and metro area hospitals have now reached a peak of 90% capacity. Other respiratory illnesses contribute to the crisis, but Huse said COVID-19 cases now make up more than 10% of all hospitalizations statewide.
“We had almost no flu cases last year, and it’s because of the mitigation strategies we had in place for COVID,” Huse said. “And so really talking about not being too early with letting go of our strategies…because our hospitals have nowhere to go at this point.”