By Tim Linscott
There was a lot of talking April 16 in Grant about housing needs and the general consensus of those in attendance was that the talking needed to cease, action was the next step.
Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA) held a housing and community development meeting at the Hastings Memorial Library in Grant on April 16 with several community members representing different aspects of the housing issue in attendance.
Members of Connect Perkins County, a local economic development outreach group, as well as members of the local banks, hospital, contractors, the city and interested parties attended the meeting to hear what NIFA and the USDA could do as options in helping alleviate the housing issue in the county, in particular Grant.
Steve Peregrine, deputy director of communications and outreach for NIFA, presented several options available to help first-time home buyers, military home programs, home buyer assistance programs, low income housing tax credit programs and other outreach programs like a housing study grant program.
Statistics were released on the very real need for housing on multiple levels in Perkins County at the meeting.
The vacancy rate in Perkins County in 2012 was at zero. In 2013 the vacancy rate rose to 7.69 percent. Between 2011 and 2012 the total number of housing units in Perkins County decreased by three units.
Don Softley of Valley Bank noted that almost daily he has inquiries from local families wanting to come to Grant. That very morning, he pointed out, two families, one with three school-aged children, were wanting information on moving to Grant and wanted rental housing options. Softley had no leads for the families.
“I had to tell them there was nothing here, so they are likely going to go to Ogallala,” Softley said. “We shoot ourselves in the foot every day.”
Peregrine backed up that statement by showing stats from www.housing.ne.gov, a website designed to help people find housing throughout the state.
All inquiries for rentals in Perkins County yielded eight results–all in Ogallala.
“It is hard for us to survey about rental housing because there are just no rentals here,” Peregrine said.
Housing for sale is rarely done via a realtor in Grant, according to Connect Perkins County marketing plan. Word of mouth is where houses are bought and sold in Grant.
There are 1,414 housing units total in the county with 40 percent built prior to 1940.
The marketing plan explains, “According to local realtors, those seeking to buy homes are looking for homes built from 1970 to the present. This group of homes total only 30 percent of the county’s housing stock.”
These homes are ‘often purchased by word-of-mouth’ with little to no contact from realtors due to the high demand in the county.
Dana Harris, Grant City Administrator, relayed a story that she found a rental home and home for sale in Grant before moving to the community via a source in town that overheard a conversation at the annual holiday open house.
“I got a phone call and they told me that ‘so and so’ was selling their house and they’d put in an offer for me,” Harris said. “Someone found me a person retiring that would let me live in their basement until I could find something, but I was lucky enough to find a rental home.”
According to the Connect Perkins County marketing plan, which used 2010 Census reports, the county had a seven percent drop in population the last 10 years, with a portion of the loss ‘due to inadequate housing for those who live and work in the county.’
The Perkins County Comprehensive Plan indicates that fewer than 110 homes in the county were built from 1990 to present. A total of roughly 75 percent of the homes in the county are owned. There are 331 rental units occupied in the county as of 2010.
Availability, not price, is an issue as far as renting and owning a home is concerned in the county.
In Perkins County in 2010 the median rent was $593, compared to $648 for the state.
Median household income increased 37.4 percent in 2010 in the county, which is 160 percent higher than inflation and, per capita, county income increased 37 percent from 2002 to 2008, compared to a state increase of 28 percent in the same time period, according to Census figures.
Dennis Demmel, comprehensive plan committee chair for the Perkins County Planning Commission, concluded in a letter dated April 16, 2014, “It appears that Perkins County has a relatively robust economy where housing demand exceeds availability. It is this writer’s opinion that the lack of adequate housing may be the greatest impediment to economic development in Perkins County.”
Kyle Martin, assistant manager of place based development for NIFA, explained there may be options within the city limits for housing development.
“There is a lot of potential being overlooked in areas you may not realize,” Martin said.
He would later pose the question to the audience, “Let’s not ask ‘do we need more housing, but why don’t we have more housing?’”
Adair Reese of Reese Mechanical, Reese Appliance and AR Salon, commented that a lack of land near the city has made it impossible for the municipality to grow.
“There is no land available close to build anything,” Reese said.
Harris explained that she has been working with property owners on getting a small sub-division near town and was encouraging the city to annex the land.
Keeping a balancing act in check would be important for Grant and the county. Harris does not want to see an overrun of rental properties in town or a slew of new houses erected, leaving other homes to become dilapidated.
“We want to see people move up into homes and have the homes they leave rented or bought. Land needs to be annexed in my opinion,” Harris said. “We aren’t wanting to annex a lot of land, a few reasonable parcels for sub-dividing. I think we have a reasonable plan.”
Harris indicated the city was headed ‘in a good direction’ with addressing the housing needs in Grant and has recently begun forming a Community Redevelopment Authority (CRA) and plans to utilize Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to help with addressing housing issue.
The biggest thing the public can do to further the cause of alleviating the housing issue locally is show support to local elected officials, Harris explained.
“Yes, we need to do this and the city council and mayor need to hear support of these measures. Come to a meeting and tell them,” Harris said.
Rod Cornelius of Pinnacle Bank called on everyone at the meeting to support the city and get involved with the housing issues at hand, from rehabilitating older homes, to fixing and renting currently uninhabited homes, to building new homes.
Connect Perkins County members are currently proposing the creation of private and public investments to build duplex, tri-plex or four-plex housing units. The group is slated to meet soon to plan strategies for the future.
Doug Beck of Grant called on potential private investors to cull money together to support housing developments locally.
He called for an investment club to be formed to tackle the local housing issue.
“This will take an investment from us. There is a lot a group like NIFA can do for us, but there is a lot more we can do for ourselves than lean on groups like NIFA and the USDA,” Beck said. “Let’s have less of watching out for ourselves and more of let’s do this together.”
Voices from the crowd
At the NIFA housing meeting in Grant on April 16, an open discussion was held on the housing shortage in Grant and Perkins County.
Here are some of the quotes from people in the audience at the meeting in regard to the shortage:
• Rod Cornelius, Pinnacle Bank: “We have a great school, great jobs and no houses. We need to do this. We’ve been beating this horse for 20, 30 years, it is time to put on the spurs and quit beating this horse.”
• Bob Tatum, Grant City Council: “Twenty years ago it was identified that we had a severe rental housing shortage. Now the rental situation is worse and there aren’t any houses for sale. A lot of work in both areas are needed.”
• Eric Gengenbach, First Insight Eyecare and Connect Perkins County: “We moved back and found a spot and we are lucky to have found it.”
• Tori Gengenbach, First Insight Eyecare and Connect Perkins County: “Young professionals want to come back here, but it is tough to find a place. Housing is needed across the gambit.”
• Dan Hughes, farmer: “You can see the towns living and dying. Without the people investing in their town, that town is dying. There are things the state can do to help but a community has to put their own money in.”
• Gaylord Bishop, retired: “The rental and housing situation around here is tough. It was tough in 1974 when I started out. Let’s quit talking about it and do something.”
• Deb Osler, an original member of Connect Perkins County: “This isn’t just a Grant issue, housing needs to be updated across the county.”
• Adair Reese, business owner, AR Salon, Reese Appliance: “When we moved here you pretty much have to buy what you can get. It is just total chance if you can find a house to buy.”
• Melissa Wilson, Adams Bank and Trust: “I see people coming into the community needing a rental or buying a house and it can be tough for what they need. They may have a big family and have to buy a small house. This is something we need to address and find a solution.”
• John Long, Bullock-Long Funeral Home in Grant: “When do we get serious about this?” We have a young base of leadership here. If we sit here and talk about it for two hours, what direction do we go?”
• Kevin Poppe, Connect Perkins County: “This county used to have three schools and there was 11-man and eight-man football. Now we are down to one school, playing eight-man football. What has happened? Here is our wake-up call. People want to move here but you need a golden ticket.”