Contrary to recent comments made in a Feb. 24 Journal Star story, “Housing bill questioned,” Lincoln residents -- and Nebraskans across the state -- are having a tough time finding places to live that fit their budgets.
In Lincoln, the average home price has skyrocketed 34% since 2012. Renters, too, are dealing with rising prices, with almost half spending more than 30% of their income on rent, which is considered “cost-burdened.”
If you have recently tried to buy a house or find a place to rent, you have probably faced this problem head-on. There are simply not enough housing options that are affordable to the average Lincoln household which, according to the 2019 Lincoln Vital Signs Report, makes around $55,000 per year.
One driver of this problem is the lack of choice in type of housing on the market. Because home builders can make more profit, new housing skews either towards large single-family homes in suburban neighborhoods or high- rise, multi-unit apartment buildings, the latter of which made up more than half of the new housing units in Lincoln last year according to a March 1 article in the Journal Star (“Bulk of Lincoln’s residential growth focused in burgeoning apartment building projects”).
Relatedly, a huge factor in rising home costs is the growing size of the average new home, which has more than doubled since the 1970s. Many residents are left behind in this narrow market, including young professionals, families looking for their first home and seniors wanting to downsize.
To combat this issue, I introduced LB794, the Missing Middle Housing Act, which would remove barriers to a wider variety of home choices and eliminate exclusionary zoning policies that ban many affordable, and desirable, housing choices like town homes.
Single-family, detached homes would still be allowed, of course, along with a mix of smaller plexes, courtyard homes and row houses that would return us to the more walkable and diverse neighborhoods close to amenities that many desire.
Passing the bill would not mean a free-for-all for developers. Cities would still be able to require neighborhood design standards and other regulations if they wished, and homebuilders have gotten skilled at incorporating varied housing seamlessly into existing neighborhoods in ways that do not lower surrounding property values.
A wide variety of organizations have expressed support for the bill, including the AARP, the Sierra Club, the Platte Institute, advocates for low-income families such as Nebraska Appleseed and Together, the South of Downtown Community Development Organization, Realtors, builders and several others. Frankly, I did not expect this amount of support from such a cross section of constituencies. To me, this is further evidence we cannot continue with the status quo.
I have always been a strong supporter of our neighborhoods, but when we talk about neighborhoods, we need to recognize all residents, not just homeowners. I have worked for policies that keep our homes affordable and welcoming to all Lincolnites.
I am currently working with various parties, including city officials, to address concerns and find a way for us to move forward. I look forward to working with them and finding a way to make where we live less of a burden on Lincoln families and make our neighborhoods more livable for everyone.
Sen. Matt Hansen represents legislative District 26, which is northeast Lincoln.