Urban Affairs

Local anti-poverty plans, housing agency provisions advanced

A bill that would require certain cities to create detailed poverty elimination plans advanced to the second round of debate March 20 after lawmakers amended it to include proposals intended to address concerns about Omaha’s public housing agency.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB840, as introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, would, beginning July 1, 2025, require Nebraska cities with a population of at least 50,000 to adopt a five-year poverty elimination action plan, reevaluate the plan every two years and update it every five. Cities would submit the plans to the Urban Affairs Committee and the Clerk of the Legislature.

McKinney said the measure is intended to make antipoverty initiatives more transparent and effective.

“We may never actually eliminate poverty, but I think we should try,” he said. “We all have a responsibility in our capacities to try to do something about it.”

Each city’s plan would outline its goals for eliminating poverty in current high-poverty areas, qualified census tracts and economic redevelopment areas and describe its planned use of federal, state and local incentives to reach that goal.

In addition to the plans, LB840 would require metropolitan, primary and first class cities with a population of at least 20,000 to submit a report to the committee every other year describing their efforts to eliminate poverty.

Reports would contain more than a dozen key components, including a comprehensive needs assessment, education and job training and affordable housing. The committee could request any city to present its report at a public hearing.

Under a committee amendment, adopted 31-12, the requirements would apply only to primary and metropolitan class cities. Lincoln is the state’s only primary class city, and Omaha is its only metropolitan class city.

The amendment also contains provisions of four other bills heard by the committee this session, two of which McKinney said were introduced in response to the Omaha Housing Authority’s eviction practices and unresponsiveness to residents’ complaints about conditions at the agency’s properties.

The amended provisions of LB530, sponsored by McKinney, would make several changes related to local housing agencies established by metropolitan class cities.

Under the proposal, the mayor would appoint an agency’s nine commissioners — an increase from seven — including three resident commissioners. All commissioners would serve four-year terms.

The committee amendment also would have required the mayor to appoint a housing agency’s executive director. McKinney introduced an amendment, adopted 28-10, to strike that provision.

Additionally, an officer or employee of the city that established the housing agency would not be eligible to serve as a commissioner until four years after leaving that position. A commissioner could not have an ownership interest in or be employed by any entity doing business with the agency.

Under current law, a housing agency resident has the opportunity to contest the termination of their tenancy in a hearing conducted by the agency.

The amended provisions of LB1046, sponsored by Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha, would create new requirements for that process and for related eviction proceedings if a premises is located in a metropolitan class city.

Under the amendment, counsel would be appointed for the resident prior to the termination hearing unless the tenant already is represented. If the resident does not request a hearing and the housing agency files an eviction, the county court would appoint counsel to represent the resident during eviction proceedings.

The housing agency would pay for any court-appointed counsel and could not assess a fee against any resident for legal services provided.

Cavanaugh said the proposal is intended to protect the rights of OHA residents, who are much more likely to become homeless after eviction than someone who is evicted from private rental housing.

He said OHA filed more than 400 evictions last year, some for amounts as small as $60. OHA also miscalculated some residents’ rent and violated federal guidelines by not notifying them of an administrative grievance procedure they could have used to protest rent increases, Cavanaugh said.

The provisions of McKinney’s LB530 would require OHA to establish that procedure as well as a complaint process for residents.

North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson opposed the amendment and the bill. He objected to using taxpayer funds to pay for legal services for those who receive taxpayer-subsidized housing.

The committee amendment also contains two proposals intended to address Nebraska’s affordable housing shortage.

The amended provisions of LB881, introduced by Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln, would change the definition of urban community in the Middle Income Workforce Housing Investment Act.

McKinney said the change would allow cities in Lancaster and Sarpy counties other than Lincoln and Omaha to qualify for grants under the act.

The provisions of LB843, also introduced by McKinney, would increase the maximum grant that the state Department of Economic Development could award to a nonprofit development organization under the act from $5 million to $10 million.

The amendment also would decrease the amount of matching funds an applicant must provide from at least 50% of the grant funds awarded to at least 25%.

Omaha Sen. Jen Day supported the amendment. She said raising the cap is necessary because certain nonprofits already have reached the current grant limit, demonstrating the state’s need for affordable housing.

LB840 advanced to select file on a vote of 30-11.

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