Summit tackles housing

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A housing summit planned for Seward County will spark a conversation on housing with the hopes of ultimately increasing options for living in the area. 

The Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership, along with Southeast Nebraska Development District, Southeast Nebraska Affordable Housing Council and Midwest Housing Development Fund, Inc. will present the Southeast Nebraska 2021 Affordable Housing Summit at Concordia University’s Dunklau Center on Thursday, July 29 beginning at 9 a.m. 

The event will feature presentations from Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Tony Goins, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Slone and Nebraska Investment Finance Authority Executive Director Shannon Harner, as well as two panels featuring local and state leaders. 

“It’s meant to spur conversations for the county but the broader goal is to spur conversation across Southeast Nebraska,” Zane Francescato, Development and Government Affairs Director with SCCDP, said. “Housing has been a big hot button issue for a long time.”

He added that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the need for housing and importance of the conversations that will be had at the summit. 

“The price of lumber, increased infrastructure cost,all that stuff combines into the sale price of homes,” he said. “If you look up final sale prices of homes recently, they’ve skyrocketed.”

Francescato said the summit will help address three themes associated with housing issues in the area. 

“The day is going to focus on three broad areas - availability, affordability and sustainability,” he said. “We’re really focusing the day on conversation and an opportunity to learn.”

Each presentation and panel will touch on a different topic related to housing. For example, Francescato said Goins’ speech will address how important housing is to communities of all sizes in Nebraska. Without housing, it's more difficult to attract businesses. Harner will touch on programs that help promote the importance of housing in Nebraska. 

The panels are set to address availability of housing in Seward and what “affordable” housing truly means.
“We’re talking middle income range. A middle income earner cannot afford a $300,000 house,” Francescato said. “Their prospects of buying new construction in Seward is slim. There are homes that go for lower than that but if they’re available, they go really fast. 

“Affordability will touch on all of that.”

Francescato said he hopes that the summit will not only further the conversation regarding housing in the area, but attract an audience housing-related professionals that can use their resources and talents to create new projects. 

“We’re hoping to get people coming to the area to see the potential here and really get creative how they’re going to address housing,” he said. “We’re hoping people will be able to network with one another. We have people coming in…from all over the place and we still have some seats open.”

He encouraged the general public to attend and learn about the nuances behind why affordable housing is an important issue in the area. 

“People every so often (on local Facebook groups) will post about needing to find a home, needing to rent something, needing to buy something and it’s been related to ‘why can’t we find something,’” he said. “Housing development is hard, there is a lot of risk involved and it’s not always a matter of not trying. There are a lot of different problems that go in behind wanting to build. 

“This is an opportunity to come in and really dive in to what the issues are affecting housing development in Seward and, really, across Nebraska. Seward’s not unique in the fact it has a housing issue. The same issues are across any rural community and urban community in Nebraska.”

Aside from growing the conversation, Francescato said the partners involved in the summit hope to see one simple, yet important outcome of the event. 

“We build,” he said, with a laugh. “That mark of success is how fast we can get projects built in Seward County.”

The event runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is open to the public. To register, visit the SCCDP Facebook page.

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