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Is Housing a Problem in Cuming County?

The Cuming County Economic Development (CCED) Board meets monthly. The purpose of the Board is to provide oversight for the County Economic Development Program. Board members were appointed by the public bodies that operate in a collaborative effort under an interlocal agreement to providing economic development services in Cuming County. Under the direction of the Economic Development Board, the Executive Director has created the Business Improvement Grant (BIG Program), and residential and commercial demolition programs, using funds from the Nielsen Foundation. Along with the grant programs, the Economic Development Director, in partnership with the CCED Board, has participated in many economic development activities including business and people recruitment, marketing the county as a whole, business retention, and community development. The program has received generous donations from the Dinklage Foundation for marketing, website development and other various office expenses.

Yes, Cuming County and most of rural America has a housing problem. Studies have shown that rural housing is older, can have major structural issues, such as plumbing, wiring, heating and cooling, and do not meet the needs of today’s families. That is why housing has become a major focus of CCED. One facet of economic development is creating quality affordable housing. In 2011 a housing study was completed for the City of West Point and in 2013, Cuming County funded a housing study for the communities of Beemer, Bancroft, Wisner and rural Cuming County, which was part of the County Comprehensive Plan. Both studies identified a substantial need for new housing. 96 additional housing units are targeted for West Point, consisting of 60 owner and 36 renter units. An estimated 34 owner and 18 renter units should be targeted for elderly households, 55+ years of age, with 22 owner housing units and 14 renter units targeted for non-elderly families. An estimated four owner and four renter housing units in West Point should be built for persons with special needs. An estimated 36 owner units and 22 renter units will be needed for low to moderate income workforce households. These projections will fill the need until 2021 for West Point.

Cuming County’s study, which included rural Cuming County, Wisner, Beemer and Bancroft, identified similar needs for housing. 48 owner occupied units for various income levels and 50 renter occupied units are estimated to fill the need for housing in this area until 2023. “New development in the subject area will be approximately 50% owner-occupied and 50% renter-occupied, a significantly higher percentage of rentals than today’s mix, but necessary to address previous shortfalls in rental construction.”

The County study indicated that the county’s greatest need falls within the $75,000 to $149,000 range. West Point City’s study identifies the top needs for housing in West Point are housing for low to middle income families, housing for single parent families, general rental housing,

housing choices for first-time homebuyers, owner and rental retirement housing. The County study indicated that based on the population and income of the Beemer, Bancroft, Wisner and rural residents, the housing needs fall 358 units short. “Overall, many of the areas moderate to higher income households are living in lower cost units and thus squeezing that market for lower income households.”

Both studies identify Cuming County’s population as aging which has driven the decline of the household population at a faster rate than that of the State. “Many Baby Boomers are moving into the “empty nest” years, while many of their children have not started families of their own. It is important to note that, even with a stable population, a declining number of people per household will create demand for additional housing.”

CCED Board members continue to explore opportunities to increase the county’s population especially in the age group of 20-39. Increasing the population of citizens in the County would increase the tax base and create an environment that can grow a stronger, more diversified and resilient economy. Equally important is growing an economy that enables all residents to achieve a better life. During the years for 1960 to 2010 Cuming County experienced a significant loss of population in the prime “child rearing” years, 25-39. “Not only were these residents not replaced, many residents moving into these age groups left the county. This segment of the population is the engine of local population growth.”

According to the Baseline Community Profile Study done by UNL Extension for West Point and Cuming County, between the years of 2000-2015, Cuming County has experienced the largest population boost from the millennial age group which would be persons born between the years of 1982 to 2004. Unfortunately, the county’s housing stock leaves a demand for housing for this age group, which also serves as a large part of the county’s blue collar workforce. The studies also indicate a substantial need for elderly housing, both rental and owner occupied, for all elderly income sectors.

As a result of discussion amongst CCED Board members, a housing task force committee was formed to improve housing opportunities in the County. Elected Officials, Bankers, Real Estate Professionals, Insurance Agents and Citizens involved in Economic Development makeup the task force which have met three times to discuss housing. The task force recognizes the successes of the individual communities and hopes to work with them to enhance what is currently being done. A down payment assistance program, credit-to-own program, housing rehabilitation, housing demolition, code enforcement; were on the top of the list of activities identified in the studies. With the help of the Economic Development Director, the task force recently received education on federal grant programs through the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA). NIFA’s programs use federal tax credits to subsidize the needed programs as identified in the studies. Communities in the area, such as Wayne, Tekamah, and

Norfolk, have been working with NIFA for years to build up their communities housing stock to provide diverse options for their citizens.

Traditionally, our communities have relied on the move-up housing approach in which new higher end homes are built which leaves houses for sale. Although this approach is effective, it has not kept up with the demand for quality, affordable housing. 32 single family housing units were built between the years of 2011 and 2016 within the four communities. 27 homes were built within the city limits of West Point, five homes were built in Wisner and two homes in Bancroft. West Point’s private sector have stepped up and surpassed the need identified in the West Point housing study to build 22 owner occupied higher income housing units. They are also providing options for the moderate to higher income families outside the county looking to move into Cuming County. Two duplexes for owners have been built during the same time frame and one four-plex rental unit is under construction in West Point. More information would be needed on the West Point old elementary school project to see how this housing complex will help fill the gaps. These projects help fill the need for the county’s population in the moderate to high income levels, but affordable housing is lacking for lower income citizens.

This leaves a question “WHAT IS AFFORDABLE HOUSING”? In the simplest of terms, affordability of housing refers to the amount of capital one has available in relation to the price of the goods to be obtained. The generally accepted definition of “affordable” is no more than 30% of a household’s income goes to housing costs. Cuming County has a 2015 median household income of $50,013 (Census Bureau); 30% of the median household income equals $15,004, or $1,250 per month for housing (rent or mortgage). The UNL Extension study states the gross rent of 45% of the rentals in Cuming County exceeds 30% of the household income. This might draw the conclusion that there is a demand for “affordable” rental and owner-occupied units in the county. To serve the citizens of our county, and to experience positive growth, the County needs to provide housing options for all income levels.

Another interesting statistic from the UNL study is 9% of the total population in Cuming County is classified as in deep poverty which is 2.1% higher than the national average. Could the housing market in Cuming County be contributing to this statistic?

This leaves one more question. How does a community fill the need for affordable housing? The problem in creating affordable housing is there is no profit for the private sector to invest in building housing units for the low to moderate income citizens. Therefore the task is left to non-profits and government subsidies.

Cuming County continues to be a progressive County and a leader in the State. Currently it has quality public facilities and new projects on the horizons. Quality affordable housing will continue to be a need for all the communities within Cuming County. It will be important for all

groups within the county, private and public, to work together to fill the housing needs of the county now and into the future. If you feel strongly that the CCED Board members need to work with organizations such as NIFA, please share those comments with the Economic Development Department. You may call 402-372-6001 or email Kelly Gentrup at kelly@cumingcountyed.com or speak with members of the CCED Board. All thoughts, comments and criticism are welcomed. If you would like to review both housing studies please visit the City of West Point website and the Cuming County website. For the UNL Baseline community profile for West Point and Cuming County, visit the Business section of the Cuming County Website (www.cumingco.com).

Cuming County Economic Development Board

Jon Bailey
Doug Steffensmeier
Tom Goulette
Al Vacanti
Jon Cerny
Holly Schroder
Bonnie Vogltance
Rose Jaspersen
Chet McWhorter

Cuming County

West PointBeemerWisnerBancroft

NEBRASKA