Photo: Home in Wakefield built with support from the Rural Workforce Housing Fund.
It was January 2019 when Governor Ricketts visited Wakefield on a chilly, snowy day to tour the home of the Ruiz family — the city’s first new build financed by 2017’s Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund (RWHF).
Today, less than 27 months later, Wakefield has harnessed the RWHF to build five new homes — with two more in progress — and rehabilitate another six.
“There’s still an urgent need for housing options in our community, but it’s an incredible start,” said Megan Weaver, Executive Director of Wakefield Economic Development. “We’ve essentially doubled our original State and local investment in terms of revolving loans made to developers and homeowners. The program has been a big success for us so far.”
A year after the passage of LB 518 — the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act — Wakefield, in partnership with Wayne, become co-beneficiary of $639,000 in State funding under the RWHF. The bill was introduced by Senator Matt Williams and signed into law by Gov. Ricketts to address growing workforce housing needs in Nebraska’s counties of less than 100,000.
“The demand is sky high,” Weaver said. “People are ready to move to Wakefield. Our employers are ready to expand. We just don’t have the homes to accommodate that growth. For example there are only two homes for sale in Wakefield right now. That’s a situation that rural communities across the state are facing.”
You know there’s a need when even local banks and employers are willing to chip in to see more foundations being poured.
“Two of our biggest employers contributed match to our workforce fund, as did some of our local financial institutions. Everyone feels the need.”
Aside from financing new-builds, the City has put its investment fund to work preserving and improving the existing housing inventory, and providing down payment assistance to new and first-time homeowners.
“We need to make these funds work for everyone,” Weaver said. “When we’re able to finance someone’s new roof, or help a family that’s moving to town afford their dream home, that’s an investment in our entire community.”
Wakefield isn’t the only one with RWHF success stories. In fact, since 2017’s initial State investment of $7 million, more than a dozen rural communities have planned, built or rehabilitated upwards of 600 homes in all, with project costs totaling nearly $80 million. Communities have pitched in over $10.1 million in local match to bring projects to fruition. This year, the Department of Economic Development accepted applications for a second round of RWHF funding, which was approved by Gov. Ricketts following the program’s initial success.
“It takes a big local effort, but it is possible to address our housing challenges,” Weaver said. “We’re thankful we’ve had the support of the State to help us gain so much momentum and get the ball rolling. We’re excited to finish up with these two latest builds and keep going for more.”
For more information about the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act, visit https://opportunity.nebraska.gov/program/workforce-housing-fund/.