As California, New York, Virginia, Maryland, and Washington all scramble to solve affordability crises partially caused by years of restrictive zoning laws, Nebraska lawmakers are working to crush a burgeoning housing crisis before it starts.
State Senator Matt Hansen (D-Lincoln) on Jan. 8 announced the “Missing Middle Housing Act,” that allows cities with more than 5,000 residents to build duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, cottage clusters or townhouses on land zoned for single-family dwellings. The Act also makes provisions for manufactured housing, as long as it meets state requirements.
Although current median home values in Nebraska’s largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln, have yet to crack the $200,000 mark, Hansen said a major price boom could be on the way, as demand is pushing values up by almost 6 percent year-over-year.
“We need more of it, whether you call it affordable housing or workforce housing,” Hansen told CityLab. “We’re growing all across the state at a rate where we’re having trouble keeping up with the number of [housing] units needed.”
Hansen revealed initial feedback from housing groups, renters groups, cities, and municipalities has been largely positive, with 10 community leaders supporting the Act during a recent Urban Affairs Committee meeting. However, four others cast “neutral” or “opposing” votes.
One of the neutral voters, Lincoln Planning Director David Cary told local news outlet 1011 Now he’s concerned the Act will strip cities’ of their ability to control local building.
The lone opposing voter, who remains unnamed, told 1011 Now multiple Nebraska metros are already drafting upzoning bills and Missing Middle Housing Act’s 2022 deadline is too quick.
Despite some pushback, Hansen’s bill will move forward with a yet-to-be-scheduled executive session. In the meantime, fellow senators have joined Hansen by submitting two additional housing-related bills.
Senator Justin Wayne’s Density Bonus and Inclusionary Housing Act would allow builders to construct denser developments, as long as 15 percent of units are reserved for low-income and very-low-income renters who make anywhere from 30 to 80 percent of the median area income.
Meanwhile, Senator Tony Vargas‘ Middle Income Workforce Housing Investment Act would use money from Nebraska’s General Fund to build affordable housing in older, lower-income neighborhoods. In addition to helping current residents, Vargas said the Act will help “attract and retain” new residents looking to join Nebraska’s growing tech scene.
Compared to Virginia, where a statewide upzoning plan was unanimously struck down in January, Nebraska seems to have a clear path ahead.
Hansen’s moderate approach, which includes pushing the fact that cities still have the right to build single-family housing developments and giving local zoning boards more freedom in determining the size and siting of multi-family developments, could soon turn dissenters into supporters.
Whether the Missing Middle Housing Act gets passed or canned, local housing advocates said the growing need for multi-family developments is an issue that must be addressed.
“If you want to rent, there should be a place for you,” renters advocate Cassey Lottman told CityLab.