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During constituent meetings across District 38 over the past month, community and business leaders have expressed a common challenge facing our rural communities: housing. City councils of small villages and larger communities alike struggle with a range of policy issues around housing in their communities, while business owners frequently find adequate housing a challenge in the recruitment and retention of employees.
Safe, affordable housing is essential for communities to thrive. Rural communities require a full spectrum of housing options, including rental apartments, starter homes for young families, mid-priced family homes, and housing to meet the needs of seniors and retirees. All of the communities in District 38 struggle to have an adequate number of available homes in one or more categories of housing. In most towns, were a new business to locate there bringing 10 new families to town to fill 10 new upper-middle class jobs, there would not be enough local housing options available for the new employees to live in the community.
Additionally, many employers report to me that few communities have available enough short term rental housing to recruit young adults from college and technical programs. Rather than living in the community of their jobs in Sutton, Minden, or Holdrege, they live in larger communities nearby and commute to work. Many seniors who may want to downsize out of larger family homes cannot find affordable, accessible housing in our rural communities.
Specific housing needs are unique to each community, even though common challenges exist. Unfortunately, communities, business owners, and economic development interests have few options to proactively address housing challenges. Several community foundations have joined together to finance housing developments and multi-family dwellings to facilitate employee recruitment. Others have sought limited federal rural development dollars to help provide affordable housing for seniors and young families. Tax Increment Financing, commonly known as TIF, is one of the only options most communities have for community development.
The vitality of our rural communities is dependent upon addressing the fundamental need of housing. We must develop new tools in our policy toolbox for local communities to address their specific circumstances. One-size fits all, heavily bureaucratic programs won’t be flexible or responsive enough to adapt to each community. I have ideas, but I don’t have many solutions.
So I am issuing a challenge. Over the coming months, I want you to share your ideas for addressing the housing needs on our rural communities. You have a better understanding of what may work and what won’t in your specific community than I. Share your ideas with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, contact your local city council members, or engage in community planning processes taking place in many communities. I am confident that new, innovative solutions can be developed locally. As I continue meeting with local community officials and business leaders to listen to their concerns, I hope to be able to share with them ideas from residents across District 38. I look forward to hearing your ideas.