Reinvestment & Development on North 30th
On Monday, May 13, the City of Omaha with Omaha Housing Authority, received a $25 million dollar Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI) grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The money will be used to fund the demolition and rebuilding of Spencer Homes apartments into a mixed-use, mixed-income development that is being called Kennedy Square.
An award ceremony took place in the recently constructed Highlander neighborhood located on North 30th Street between Lake and Parker Streets. Mayor Jean Stothert, Congressman Don Bacon, City Councilman Ben Gray, and Othello Meadows, CEO of 75 North Development Corporation, gave remarks.
“This is an opportunity for people in our community, who have suffered for a very long time to see some light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train coming at them,” said Gray.
“Most importantly we want to thank the families in this neighborhood, in this community that have trusted us. That met with us at Spencer Homes, that meet with us [at Highlander], meet us on the street and trust us to try and build a better neighborhood, a better community for them and their families and that is no small feat given the history of this neighborhood,” said Meadows, “We’ll never take that trust for granted.”
This particular award will be leveraged by the city and OHA with philanthropic partners like Sherwood and Scott Family Foundations for more funding to further redevelopment along North 30th Street.
New construction is already in progress including the Buffett Early Childhood Center located next to Howard Kennedy Elementary and the former Stage II lounge.
News of the CNI grant and preliminary plans were met with mixed responses by community members on social media. Some eagerly welcomed the new investment while others immediately used the word “gentrification” in fear of mass displacement of long-time residents of North Omaha.
NOISE interviewed Steven Abraham, resident commissioner of Omaha Housing Authority to get his take and respond to speculation of gentrification, which by definition means, “the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste.”
“This is not gentrification. I don’t know how I can say it in more plainer words. This is not gentrification. This neighborhood choice award that we’ve received has specific guidelines detailed by the federal government, HUD guidelines, that say that once we remodel or demolish a unit, we replace that unit and we put individuals back in that unit that fit under that category. And the people that are there, the people have been displaced, have first choice on what is taking place with this development so the people that are currently there, they have first choice in this new development,” said Abraham.
Prior to the grant announcement, Omaha City Planning had scheduled public meetings for May 15 and 16 to discuss the city’s 2019-2023 consolidated plan. The meetings were held at the Venue at Highlander and featured stations with city planners to describe projects and answer questions.
The Consolidated Plan is made of two parts, a five year strategic plan and an annual action plan. The plan is a HUD requirement that must be fulfilled in order to receive federal entitlement grant funds.
Grant programs guided by the consolidated plan are Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME), and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG).
City planner Pat Evans welcomed attendees and emphasized the need for community input to make for a more responsive process, “I think together we can be inclusive and make better decisions and think that is where we are trying to move, to make better decisions that are inclusive and that really do hear you and are responsive to you,” she said.
City officials explained that the addition of the $25 million had prompted revisions of the original plan, so the online public comment period will reopen starting May 31 through June 28. A public hearing will be held on June 18th from 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM in the Jesse Lowe Conference Room on the 3rd floor at City Hall (1819 Farnam St).
Omaha City Planning on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/OmahaPlanHCD/
Revised Consolidated Plan document at: https://planninghcd.cityofomaha.org/images/Plans/2019-2023_Consolidated_Plan_Published_DRAFT_June_3_2019_online.pdf. Public comment ends June 28.
City Planning hopes to submit the revised plan to the Planning Board and City Council for approval in June and July before final submission to HUD for approval by August 15.
The turnaround time for the plan is a matter of months and looking at the number of attendees of both meetings, not many residents of North Omaha had heard about the plans or the process.
We spoke to one man who lives near Spencer Homes, Ladarius Smith, who said he heard about the meeting from a coworker but wished there was stronger communication about important events within the Black community.
“One thing about the Black community that we’re good at is complaining amongst ourselves,” he said, “If we’re not coming out to the events and actually hearing what they’re talking about, then we can’t complain.”
Smith drew a distinction between involvement of white communities in suburban west Omaha and the urban Black and Brown communities in the east, “In west Omaha they will be on the phone calling 20 times a day until something is fixed. We have to get out of that mindset of complaining amongst ourselves and complaining to the right people, making our voice be known, not just as an individual but in numbers,” he said.
“You gotta open your mindset, you know what I mean? We can’t expect everybody just to think for us,” said Smith.
Ms. Carla, an elder who who grew up in the Pleasant View projects where Highlander is now, recalled what it was like coming up in the area. “I can remember when [the projects] were a nice place to live, they were once, and then the criminal element got in and people just moved,” she said.
Carla described seeing a lot of negativity in Facebook groups she belongs to and said although she could agree with some the statements that were made, once she saw a chance to attend the meeting she decided to go. “I am still skeptical,” she said, “I need to see [more] but they kind of explained certain things and I understand that they are trying to sell it, sell the idea.”
“There are still people who are not going to believe it until they see. There are going to people who are totally against it,” she said, “They’ve explained to me the resettlement program, how they are going to, because I know someone who is going to be affected by it.”
Ultimately for Ms. Carla, it all comes down to affordable housing.
“There is no affordable housing in Omaha. It would be nice, but there isn’t any. What they are saying is that this is going to be a mixed thing of incomes and so forth, kind of like a neighborhood I grew up in. You had some retired people, you had people who were still working, then there was young people and they were working. It was a working middle class neighborhood," she said.
When asked what she would do if she were given the $25 million dollars, Carla said, “Decent, and the word is decent, affordable housing, not just cracker box. Decent, affordable, livable housing because you can build something that is not livable.” She described duplexes, houses, and housing styles in between.
The consolidated plan and city programs can be found at planninghcd.cityofomaha.org
On June 4, city planners discussed tax increment financing and referred to the consolidated plan, though time was cut short after answering citizen questions.