Last month, the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) presented two Nebraska economic development districts with the prestigious Alice Ann Wohlbruck Impact Award. The award honors NADO members for their creative approaches to advancing regional economic development and improving quality of life. South Central Economic Development District (SCEDD) and Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD) were this year’s Nebraska honorees.
SCEDD earned recognition for its innovative HomeNE Learning Network program, which is designed to inform, engage and empower community leaders to tackle local housing issues. Consisting of monthly webinars and twice-a-year gatherings in a different host community, HomeNE brings stakeholders around the table to share information and discuss ideas for achieving local housing objectives.
“Every community has its own housing goals and challenges,” said SCEDD Community Consultant Lori Ferguson. “HomeNE is about bringing people together to share their successes, their lessons learned, what they’re doing, and to hopefully send attendees home with new information and resources to support their mission.”
With an average of more than 60 registrants per month from over 100 communities so far — including from other states — HomeNE’s monthly webinars feature guest speakers and interactive discussions centered on a wide array of housing topics. The spring and fall gatherings, meanwhile, take place over the course of one or two days in a community being showcased for its housing achievements, and have activities ranging from interactive group strategy sessions to local tours.
“This is really the first program of its kind in Nebraska, and it’s creating a whole new opportunity for people to come together and focus on a crucial aspect of our state’s economic development,” Ferguson said.
To learn more about HomeNE or to get involved, visit https://scedd.us/homene/.
The state’s second NADO awardee, SENDD, was applauded for its unique Purchase-Rehab-Resale program, which is not only boosting the city of York’s housing stock, but is creating unprecedented opportunities for low-to-moderate income homebuyers. Supported by a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, the PRR program sees SENDD and the City partner to buy, restore and sell out-of-shape properties at an extremely affordable price.
“The lack of entry-level housing has been a challenge for York’s workforce,” said SENDD Executive Director Tom Bliss. “With this program, York has been able to rehab and sell quality homes, typically for under $100,000. That puts the dream of ownership in reach for a large segment of young and working families.”
As an added bonus, the program allows applicants to be involved throughout every step of the rehab process, giving them design input on everything from paint, fixtures and landscaping to counter tops.
“It’s like an HGTV show,” said SENDD Housing Program Manager Jim Warrelmanm. “And it’s incredibly fun and rewarding to work alongside applicants when they’re really involved and have great ideas. It allows them to be invested in the home before they take ownership.”
The PRR program can even help prospective buyers — all of whom are of low-to-moderate income, per the CDBG national objective — to obtain down payment assistance in the form of grants.
“Three out of the five homeowners we’ve worked with so far have been single mothers,” Bliss said. “They’ve been able to tap into the program and finance the majority or all of their down payment. That eliminates the need for private mortgage insurance, which is a big expense.”
SENDD and the City have completed four homes thus far, with a goal of six by the end of the month.
On October 19, representatives from SCEDD and SENDD traveled to Reno for the NADO Impact Awards ceremony. Aside from the national recognition they’ll receive, each organization’s project could have a ripple effect, supporting research reports, case studies or even federal policymaking regarding housing.
“You never do this work for the recognition because, with housing development, you can only be driven enough to succeed if you care about and are committed to what you’re doing,” Ferguson said. “But this award is a tremendous honor, and a great motivation to keep trying innovative approaches.”