With Costco expected to bring more than 800 jobs to Fremont, leaders in Dodge County wanted to find out if their suspicions about a need for more housing were right.
A new study has found that there is a need, and not just to house people who will work in the Costco poultry operation.
As many as 1,500 new owner-occupied and rental housing units may be needed in the county in the next five years, to add to the current 17,035 units, according to the report from Lincoln community planning firm Hanna:Keelan Associates.
And it may take public financing tools to make it happen, especially to build housing for low-income families, the authors said, a recommendation that may be controversial in Fremont amid some opposition to the Costco project.
The study finds demand across demographics, including young professionals, families, seniors and people of low, middle and high incomes. There’s a need not only in Fremont, but also for new and rehabbed housing in smaller Dodge County towns, like North Bend and Scribner. The county has a population of about 37,000 and could grow to 39,000 in the next five years with the Costco development.
County leaders echo what economic development leaders around the state have been saying: A shortage of workforce housing in rural areas can be a barrier to growth.
Nebraska lawmakers last spring killed a proposal to expand the use of tax-increment financing for rural housing construction. But they passed a measure to start a rural workforce housing grant program using $7.3 million from the Nebraska Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The Greater Fremont Development Council will host a public presentation of the report tonight in Fremont.
“What we find is that those needs have existed for quite some time in Fremont,” said Garry Clark, executive director of the economic development group. “There hasn’t been that diversity of housing growth,” he said.
The findings are no surprise, said Melissa Diers, executive director of the Fremont Area Community Foundation, one of several groups that pitched in to pay for the study.
“It absolutely gelled with what has been the conversation in the community,” Diers said. “Housing at certain price points has been a concern that’s been raised time and time again.”
The Costco project underscored the need to study the issue, Diers said, and having fresh data will help guide development work and can position Fremont to apply for support, the report’s authors said.
Co-author Tim Keelan said Fremont has a rental housing vacancy rate of 3.2 percent, less than half of what he would recommend.
Dodge County’s location and growth potential put it in the top 10 percent of Nebraska counties in need of workforce housing, he said.
Construction is underway on several housing developments in Fremont, but those are mostly in the middle to upper end of the price spectrum, local real estate broker Marlin Brabec said. That’s because those homes are more profitable for builders, given the high cost of land and infrastructure, he said.
An exception, Fountain Springs Estates, is bringing 32 units for people 55 and up who qualify based on income. It was made possible with help from federal low-income housing tax credits and from city tax-increment financing that covered some infrastructure improvements to the site.
Brabec agreed with the study’s findings that housing for low- to middle-income families is one of the top needs. The National Association of Realtors website lists 72 homes for sale in Fremont under $150,000, and 119 homes over $150,000. Of those, 72 are priced over $200,000.
“The biggest need right now is for homes that can be bought for $150,000 or less, but we have a demand for $150,000 to $200,000 homes also, that we’re very short of inventory,” he said.
Keelan will present the study at 7 p.m. at Christensen Field in Fremont.