An Obama-era redevelopment in north Omaha, Highlander, drew high praise from Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Monday when he popped into Nebraska to highlight urban redevelopment.
Highlander, built on the site of the former Pleasantview public housing development, is now home to about 300 people in 101 apartments, town houses and row houses. Sixty percent are subsidized for moderate-income people, and 40 percent are market-rate.
Carson toured Highlander on Monday and declared it a good example of how urban housing redevelopment should be done.
The Highlander’s mixed-income apartments and town houses fit into the neighborhood architecturally and culturally, and you can’t tell the subsidized apartments from the market-rate apartments, Carson said.
“That’s the way it should be,” he said.
The housing is full, and only eight renters have moved out since the apartments were completed more than a year ago. The nonprofit developer, 75 North Revitalization Corp., combined federal low-income housing tax credits with private financing and backing from Susie Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation, the William and Ruth Scott Foundation, the Walter Scott Foundation, the Daugherty Foundation, the Kiewit Foundation and the Lozier Foundation.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded the City of Omaha and Omaha Housing Authority a $25 million grant to help demolish the Spencer Homes public housing development and redevelop a stretch of North 30th Street.
The grant seeks to build on the success of the Highlander. Construction began on the first phase of that $90 million development in 2015 and was completed last year. It includes a community center called the Accelerator, a meeting and event center called the Venue, a large greenhouse and green space for concerts and entertainment. Other buildings house a coffeehouse, a Metropolitan Community College satellite and space for microbusinesses.
Construction is set to begin in August on the next phase, 64 units of senior housing.
75 North will be involved in the HUD-backed North 30th Street Corridor redevelopment, including by building new mixed-income apartments where Spencer Homes residents could choose to live.
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Carson is a former Republican presidential candidate whom President Donald Trump named to lead HUD.
Highlander is also in an “opportunity zone,” a distinction set up by the federal government in 2017 in an effort to revitalize distressed neighborhoods by offering tax relief to investors. Carson sought to highlight the zones during his Omaha visit.
“Some people have complained that it’s just a way for rich people to get richer,” Carson said. “News flash: Rich people are going to get richer anyway.”
You might as well give them an incentive to invest in a way that will help revitalize distressed neighborhoods, he said. Carson spoke to a select group of people, including Rep. Don Bacon, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and 75 North representatives.
He said HUD should be focused more on people than on housing units. Carson said combining housing and wraparound services has cut military veteran homelessness in half since 2010. That model should be applied more broadly, he said.
Although Carson didn’t say so Monday, providing support to help people improve their overall lives is a big part of the city’s and OHA’s stated plans for the North 30th Street Corridor/Spencer Homes redevelopment. The timetable for that effort is still in the works, but it’s expected to be completed in phases over the next five years.
The HUD money will help build more than 400 apartments, town houses and homes, according to the city’s grant application.
It will boost the completion of Highlander. It will help connect the new developments and existing neighborhoods with such places as Howard Kennedy Elementary School, the Omaha Early Learning Center at Kennedy, the Charles Drew Health Center and the Highlander Accelerator Building.
City and OHA officials have said people who live at Spencer Homes will have the choice of living in new housing at Highlander, or elsewhere in the neighborhood or city, and will have first rights to move into the mixed-income housing that will replace Spencer Homes.