The writer is a co-chair of Omaha Together One Community’s housing and neighborhood revitalization action team.
Omaha Together One Community, a broad-based coalition of congregations and community organizations, applauds the favorable first-round vote in the Legislature for the Nebraska Municipal Land Bank Act, Legislative Bill 97.
When Omaha establishes a land bank, we will have a governmental entity that focuses on the conversion of vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties into productive use.
We thank our state senators for advancing the bill by a 32-0 initial vote. We urge their continued support of the bill.
But it is the Omaha mayor and City Council who will make it work for our city, turning vacant spaces into vibrant places.
An April 3 World-Herald editorial described the number of vacant properties in our city east of 72nd Street as “staggering,” more than 13,000. More shocking are the burdens they place on the quality of life and costs to city residents: among them, sharp declines in property values of neighboring houses (that have already suffered the recession’s impact on values) and declines in the city tax base.
Abandoned housing draws trouble of all kinds, deteriorating faster than occupied housing. We hear of the dangers for firefighters who have to put out fires in structurally unsound buildings, and we hear of criminal activities associated with vacant properties.
After extensive investigation on housing, OTOC has called on the mayor and City Council members to put more resources into older neighborhoods. Besides hiring an additional housing code inspector and increasing the fees charged to property owners with code violations, city leaders this year have responded by adding $500,000 from the budget to demolish 50 more of the 700 condemned buildings that have been abandoned by their owners.
In the first three months of 2013, Omaha has already contracted to demolish 46 structures. The city’s activity in almost tripling demolitions compared to last year has spurred some owners of condemned property to demolish their structures at an accelerated rate.
OTOC leaders will ask candidates for mayor and City Council to continue the additional funding for demolition of condemned buildings until the backlog of condemned structures is less than 100.
But key questions remain: Where will land bank startup funds come from? Will the public, business and philanthropic communities contribute? Will the city leaders we elect on May 14 be committed to act quickly to establish the land bank’s volunteer board with people who, besides having the skill sets described in LB 97, are passionate about the renewal of older neighborhoods?