More homes on horizon in county

County applies for second round of workforce housing dollars


The Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership is hoping to secure another $1.124 million in Rural Workforce Housing funds to build around 70 new affordable homes countywide.

The SCCDP submitted an application to the state’s Rural Workforce Housing program at the end of March and will hear whether it received the funds in mid-May.

Jacob Jennings is the community affairs director for SCCDP. Part of his job is to find ways to increase affordable housing options for residents.

Jennings said the Nebraska Department of Economic Development defines “workforce housing” as a home that costs no more than $325,000 if owner-occupied and no more than $250,000 if rented. Those numbers include the price of the lot.

“Those numbers have gone up because housing costs have gone up,” Jennings said.

The SCCDP applied for its first round of Rural Workforce Housing dollars in 2020, when the state offered a dollar-for-dollar match.

Locally, donors contributed $631,500, turning the total amount for that round into $1.26 million.

The money went into a revolving loan fund to assist developers in building new homes that fell within the workforce housing requirements.

The money assisted with four different housing projects, which created a total investment of $15.7 million in 91 housing units.

Those projects included eight townhouses on the former Seward Middle School property; 21 apartments in the former Crestview Care Center building, now called First Street Flats, in Milford; 14 single-family and duplex lots soon to be built on the former Utica Community Care Center property, now called Bronco Heights; and a proposed 48-unit apartment complex across from Pac ‘N’ Save in Seward.

Jonathan Jank, president and CEO of the SCCDP, said those loans eventually will be repaid and the money will recycle into new loans for more housing projects.

The SCCDP is waiting to see if it will receive funds from this next round of Rural Workforce Housing Program offerings, which includes a $30 million allocation from the state – this time with a 2:1 match.

Jank said $378,000 were raised in local pledges, which would bring the total for the next round to $1.124 million.

Pledges came from both public and private entities. The SCCDP board and municipalities in Seward, Milford and Utica made up the public pledges.

Philanthropic contributions came from the Legacy Fund for Seward County, Milford’s Community Betterment Fund, local financial institutions, manufacturers, small businesses and individuals.

If Seward County is not selected for the program, those pledges will not be collected.

“It’s highly competitive. We’re cautiously optimistic,” Jank said.

Jank said the Rural Workforce Housing Program allows for what he calls “missing middle housing” – homes that are large enough for families but not so expensive that they’re unattainable for most people.

Townhouses, he said, are a key piece of diversifying a community’s housing stock. They can be home for individuals just starting out or for older people looking to downsize, which opens up other single-family housing in the area –something that’s in short supply in Seward County right now.

“There has to be some sort of subsidy to make the numbers work, otherwise it’s too big of a risk for the developer to take on a project like this,” Jank said.

He said developers have submitted letters of intent for more potential projects if Seward County receives funding in the coming round.

While nothing has been decided and the funds are available to anyone who’s interested, Jank said another four projects could generate approximately 71 new housing units.

Those projects could involve the former Utica High School property, an eight-acre parcel north of Milford elementary for 36 to 48 townhouses, a four-unit townhouse project near Hughes Brothers in Seward and a 12-unit apartment building in Seward.

Jennings said Rural Workforce Housing projects can be completed within any of the cities or villages in Seward County.

A developer must complete an application, which is then reviewed by an advisory group made up of the SCCDP board and representatives from financial institutions that recommend a loan amount and terms for each project.

“They are looking for the impact it would have in the county, the number of housing units, how much equity stake they’re putting into the project and their past history with housing projects,” Jennings said.

Developers can also use the funds to renovate an existing home up to 50% of its valuation. Projects cannot include low-income housing or homes with any kind of income restriction.