COLUMBUS — The city has taken a number of steps recently to address the housing shortfall in Columbus.
Local sales tax revenue set aside for economic development through the LB840 program can now be used for workforce housing projects, a new tax-increment financing (TIF) policy opens the door for that funding mechanism to be utilized by housing developers and a housing study was completed to demonstrate how dire the situation is.
The online survey conducted by Omaha-based RDG Planning and Design and presented in June showed a 1 percent vacancy rate for local rental units — well below the “healthy” level of 5 percent for communities — and fewer than 50 houses on the market.
“It’s a supply-and-demand issue,” City Administrator Tara Vasicek said during Monday night’s Columbus City Council meeting. “It’s creating increased prices. It’s pricing certain people out of homeownership.”
Vasicek has tackled the issue head-on since taking over as city administrator in February.
The next step in her plan to add more local housing was approved this week as the city council voted to create a nonprofit corporation that will focus solely on this need.
Columbus Community Partners for Housing will work under the city’s umbrella — utilizing the expertise that already exists among municipal employees — while accessing benefits provided to nonprofit groups.
For instance, the city council also recently adopted an updated property maintenance code and moved a community service technician from the police department to community development to focus on rundown properties.
Vasicek said there are vacant houses and buildings around town that need to be condemned and torn down, some of which sit on desirable lots.
If the owner can’t afford to address a dilapidated property, she said, it could be deeded to the nonprofit housing group. The city would pay to clean up the property before it’s sold for redevelopment.
The city already has the ability to do this, but Vasicek said nonprofits can acquire and sell property much quicker and more efficiently than municipalities, shaving months off the process.
Vasicek also noted that groups looking to contribute to a housing project can make donations to the nonprofit.
“We think there’s lots of opportunities out there where a nonprofit could get involved in projects and kind of get them off the ground,” she said.
The existing Citizens Advisory Review Committee, which oversees the city’s LB840 economic development program, will serve as the board of directors for the housing group. Like the LB840 program, the city council will have the final say on financial decisions.
Vasicek said the city will submit an application within a week to create the corporation then must seek nonprofit status through the IRS.
“There’s a lot of people who are really excited about this possibility,” she said.