The western edge of Omaha’s (pop. 399,357), downtown area teems with exciting and interesting attractions, including the Omaha Children’s Museum, the Rose Blumkin Theater for Young People, the Downtown YMCA, and nearby Joslyn Art Museum, and Creighton University. The area even boasts Central High School and the newly-built Liberty Elementary School.
Yet affordable, safe housing was sorely lacking and the rundown Drake Court District—had earned the undesirable reputation as a high crime area. Built from 1916-1918, the upscale 14-building Drake Court complex was once home to many professionals and employees who enjoyed living in the city’s most affluent neighborhood, and its close proximity to streetcars and the exciting downtown area where entertainment and shopping were readily available. Through the years, the buildings became blighted and mostly inhabitable.
In 1998, the Joslyn Castle Institute, in conjunction with the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority and Omaha city officials felt that it was time to address the need for affordable housing in the area, along with neighborhood revitalization. Subsequently, the Drake Court rehabilitation project was enacted.
After the decision was made to restore existing buildings, issues, such as environment, government support, technology and social aspects were addressed. Omaha city government officials were helpful in locating housing funding sources and developing incentives to attract people and businesses into the area. Technology issues included renovating the buildings and apartments to bring them into compliance with energy and technology requirements. Social concerns included the need to address diverse income levels, available transportation and services in the area, potential job opportunities in relation to the apartments’ location, and an overall safe and attractive living environment. To partially address this last concern, planners and architects designed a landscaped area within the complex.
The project ultimately involved restoration of 14 buildings originally constructed between 1916-1919. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the newly-renovated buildings comply with National Park Services guidelines.
Over time, the buildings were transformed into one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. People of all income levels occupy the 132 apartments—80 units are leased to tenants who are at 60 percent or less of median income and the remaining units have been rented at market rate.
The project received support from many sources: the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development HOME funds (through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development), private and public funding, and tax increment financing, to name some.