Urban Affairs

New state housing department considered

The Urban Affairs Committee heard testimony March 7 on a bill that would create an executive branch state agency focused on housing and urban development in Nebraska.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer
Sen. Wendy DeBoer

LB424, introduced by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, would create the state Department of Housing and Urban Development to serve as the lead state agency for programs related to housing and homelessness. A director would be appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the Legislature.

HUD would act as a clearinghouse for all state housing programs except for two federal programs and any located at the University of Nebraska. The bill also would create a nine-member Housing Advisory Committee to assist the new department.

DeBoer said current housing policy and coordination efforts occur across multiple state agencies. This dispersed responsibility is inefficient and can create confusion for families and businesses who are looking for housing help, she said.

“LB424 is not an indictment of any of the work [of] our state agencies and what they have done with respect to housing,” DeBoer said. “Rather, this bill is about creating a consolidated department to coordinate our state housing efforts.”

Brad Meurrens, public policy director at Disability Rights Nebraska, testified in support of the bill. The overlap between disability and homelessness is significant, he said, and nearly one quarter of individuals experiencing homelessness have a physical, intellectual, developmental or mental disability.

“Poverty limits housing options and disabilities limit those options even further,” Muerrens said. “Accessible, affordable housing for persons with disabilities is vital to supporting their overall well-being.”

Social worker Jennifer Herting also spoke in support of LB424. Herting said she has conversations daily with families whose main concern is the lack of available housing that is accessible and manageable on a limited, fixed income. Families often live in homes that are not accessible for family members with disabilities, she said, but they make it work because they have to.

“Just because a person with a disability lives there, does not mean it’s accessible,” Herting said. “All Nebraskans should have safe, decent, affordable and accessible housing without limitation.”

Testifying in opposition to the bill was Gene Eckel, board member for the Nebraska Association of Commercial Property Owners and the Apartment Association of Nebraska. Instead of using state time and funds to create a new housing agency, Eckel said, the focus should be on constructing more affordable housing units.

“We believe that the state’s financial resources should be used to find ways to immediately subsidize and provide economic incentives for the development of more housing that could be offered to Nebraska citizens at an affordable price,” he said.

The committee took no immediate action on LB424.

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