Making the Most of $5.75 Million

Once a month, a team of 16 gather in a room to carve up a kind of pie, only they call it a technical assistance review. At stake are housing projects all across the state. The 16 provide technical assistance and evaluate and recommend funding for people and organizations that want to build or rehabilitate affordable houses in Nebraska.

This year, the nearly $6 million pie is a lot bigger about $4 million larger than last year. This is the first year $3.8 million from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund is available. In 1997, the Legislature dedicated $4 million a year for six years to increase the number of affordable houses. Other funds in the pie are $1.2 million from the HOME/Community Development Block Grant Program, $250,000 in Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and $500,000 in Dollar and Energy Saving Loans from the Energy Office. This is the first year the Energy Office has set aside loan funds for these projects.

35,000 Homes Needed

A 1996 study estimated that Nebraska would need nearly 35,000 more affordable homes between 1995 and 2000. Generally, housing affordability means that owners or renters spend 30 percent or less of their income for housing and utilities. The 1996 study also found that, "nearly one in four Nebraskans pay more than 30 percent of their gross income for rent and utilities."

Since 1995, the Energy Office has been a part of the affordable housing team, but recently the agency added more staff time to the effort. Others on the review team are staff from the state's Department of Economic Development, Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, and federal Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture.

When team members say "technical assistance," it really means help is on the way. Help can be learning how to:

The state and federal funds can be used for building single and multi-family rentals and single family homes for sale as well as rehabilitation and preservation of existing housing. Applicants must also meet minimum requirements such as approval of a regional priority plan for their area, evidence of site control, proper zoning, an environmental review of the site, a site review by a team member, and specific applicant program requirements from the funding sources.

But back to cutting up the pie. Funding requests are evaluated on community need and market analysis, ability to meet the community's affordable housing needs, construction and financial feasibility, community or neighborhood support, and organizational and management capacity.

Project financing is limited to $80,000 in tax credits, $350,000 in block grants, and $20,000 in loans for single family homes and $60,000 for multi-family homes. The new trust funds are allocated on a case-by-case basis and limited by region, number of applications, and scoring and ranking criteria.

Maxing The Limits

Team members seek to make the best use of limited resources. With an eye to aesthetics and livability standards, the members' objective is to recommend funding for as many qualified, affordable housing units as possible. Cost per unit, funds allocated per unit, and funds/tax credits per occupant are also important factors in evaluating applications.

While project approval rests with the three agencies that control the funding, any project that has received the team's recommendation has been financed.

Assistance is provided year-round, but financing applications are limited to three times a year. Applications for funds in 1998 can be submitted between May 1 and June 30 and August 1 and September 30. The first application period ended March 31. Funding decisions are generally known 45 days after the applications periods close.

For more information about the state's affordable housing efforts, contact any of the review team members listed in the box above.

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