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Displaced tenants struggle to find new homes because of Omaha's housing crisis

Posted at 10:14 AM, Mar 19, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It’s been nearly two months since the residents of the Flora Apartments were told they’d have to leave the unlivable conditions there. Since then, Together Omaha has been working to find them permanent housing. But they’ve hit a roadblock because of Omaha's housing crisis.

Nearly half of the families are still staying in hotels paid for by Together Omaha. Together is also paying for things like food while they search for potential units to move the tenants into.

Together will also be fronting the move-in costs for the people that had to leave their homes suddenly in late January with no time to prepare for a move.

Altogether, the nonprofit is looking at about $80,000 in costs; they've already raised $60,000 for the project.

“What could pose a challenge with that number is if hotel stays drag on to 60 days or 90 days," said Mike Hornacek, President and CEO of Together Omaha. "That's going to make that $80,000 number much higher than that."

They also have replaced the personal identification cards and birth certificates that some residents left behind in their quick departure.

"The residents, other than a handful, have had to start from scratch," Hornacek said. "If you don’t have an ID and you don’t have a birth certificate you can’t get anything. You can’t apply for benefits. You can’t apply for a job. You can’t get a hotel room."

Together Omaha has most of the money and the right documents but what they don't have is enough affordable units in Omaha to move the families into.

"When the average rent in Omaha right now is about $950 and most of the people that were living in the Flora were paying somewhere between $750 to $850 — and that was probably pushing the high end of what they could afford — you can do the math really quickly and see that doesn't work," Hornacek said. "So if you have a resident that needs to pay rent. $650 to $750 at the most, the amount of units that they have access out of all the rental units is really small."

Omaha needs roughly 80,000 affordable units to meet its citizens’ needs.

Hornacek said the city, county and state need to consider what incentives they can offer to developers to create affordable housing and start filling this widening gap.

"A lot of us are willing to engage in the conversation," Hornacek said. "We just need to figure out how does that mathematically work so it benefits everybody involved and so a nonprofit or a developer or an investor/ financier is not left holding the bill.”

Another roadblock Together Omaha is encountering is in finding habitable units for former Flora tenants.

The former Flora families just left housing where some units had no heat, no water, exposed electric wires, missing doors and other unlivable conditions. Together Omaha wants to find units that are nowhere near those levels of neglect.

"This is the perfect example of what happens when you have a huge shortage in affordable housing because you have a landlord, a property owner, that gets away with these conditions because the residents have no other choice," Hornacek said. "This was the only place they could go that they could afford. If we had more units, then landlords and property owners like this wouldn't get away with it because people wouldn't choose to live in those conditions."

Individuals who wish to assist Together Omaha to support these families can do so by donating or volunteering time.

11 tenants are currently negotiating a settlement with the help of an attorney working pro-bono, against their former landlord, Bill Stanek.

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