March 16, 2021 (LINCOLN, NEB.) – 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).
The community of Wakefield is addressing their housing shortage with the support of the Rural Workforce Housing Fund and Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act. Economic Development Director Megan Weaver says they’ve done this by building new homes and fixing up old ones.
There’s a plan to rehabilitate another six.
“There’s still an urgent need for housing options in our community, but it’s an incredible start,” said Weaver. “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.”
There’s been a demand for housing in Wakefield as employers are ready to expand. That’s according to Weaver, who says a lot of employees come from other communities in Northeast Nebraska.
“The demand is sky high,” Weaver said. “People are ready to move to Wakefield. 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.”
Wakefield, in partnership with Wayne, became co-beneficiary of $639,000 in State funding under the RWHF a year after the passage of LB 518 – the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act.
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.
Weaver says they’re also looking at a program through TIF Financing.
Weaver says they’re also working with a new program through Michael Foods called Rural Housing 360 where Michael Foods offers a $5,000 down payment assistance grant to their employees, and are also working with the Wakefield Residential Redevelopment Group and offering some of their unrestricted funds.
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/.