Build it and they will come


Build housing and industry will come. This was the message presented at a multi-county regional housing study presented by Keith Carl with Hanna:Keelan Associates of Lincoln, Nebraska on Tuesday, July 19 at the Kimball Event Center.

The study, sponsored by the Western Nebraska Economic Development (WNED), included strategies for affordable housing. Hanna:Keelan and Associates recently completed and updated the comprehensive plan and new housing study for the City of Kimball. Although less than a dozen people attended the five o’clock meeting, the pubic that did attend were vocal about their concern for the current state of housing in Kimball County.

WNED, a grassroots economic organization requested the housing study of Scottsbluff, Morrill and Kimball counties. Major funding was given by the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority’s Housing Grant Program (49%) and the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (51%).

The study included research on the area’s population history, trends and growth possibilities for the entire county including the cities of Kimball, Bushnell and Dix as well as rural areas. Population is expected to continue decreasing another 1.9 percent over the next five years, Carl said, “although there has been some population decrease it has still remained stable. You have a very good population base that is staying in the community and staying in the county and taking advantage of the community resources.”

The report shows that household size is declining faster than the decrease in population, which is fairly stable. Therefore, more houses are needed for fewer people. This trend is projected to continue over the next five years. Less people per home creates fewer homes available for the stable population. This indicates a very real need for more livable homes throughout the county, whether they are new homes or remodels.

Elderly housing was also a common concern voiced by those who attended, particularly single unit housing and assisted-living units for the elderly population.

Carl, a community planner, explained that statistics show a decline in group-quarter type housing from 60 in 2000 to just 42 in 2016 with a projected decline to 40 in 2021. This does not indicate fewer elderly, it only indicates a downward trend in the elderly living in group-housing situations. Therefore it makes sense that Kimball County would foresee a need for more assisted-type living for those reaching a certain age.

Data research shows that the preliminary projected housing demand for Kimball County is estimated at 66 owner housing and 40 rental housing over the next five years at an estimated cost of 22.7 million. These estimates take into consideration not only new housing being built but also the cost of upgrading substandard homes for both the owner and renter populations. Carl suggested that there are opportunities for money to build new housing through possible grants or grassroots organizations but did not mention any specifically.

The numbers further represent projected housing needs if there is no growth of new industry in the county. If there were to be new industry in the area, there would certainly be a housing shortage.The majority of the locals in attendance expressed the need for jobs, industry and economic development before housing. Many believe that without a higher rate of employment in the area there isn’t enough money to build the housing.

Carl reiterated, “If you have suitable and vacant housing that can be move in ready. Employers tend to look at that and know they have places for employees to move into immediately. Otherwise that job is going to move elsewhere”.

Another need identified is in the rental market, although it is typical for rural areas to have a higher percentage of owners than renters.

According to Carl, and his experience as a community planner for Hanna:Keelan Associates, new industry will typically not move into a new area without housing already in place. This puts our area in a difficult situation because there are already many houses and rentals available in the area that are not currently inhabited.

Several of those in attendance were rental owners who disagreed with Carl, stating that they could not keep their rentals filled as it is now and that what we currently have is a stable although not-to-capacity rental market.

In reference to the current local rental situation, Carl explained, “It comes down to the market too, it’s housing availability. There’s not a glut of housing available in Kimball county so you’re going to have housing that is generally more expensive if it has better upkeep. The problem is that if it gets to be above what the usual and general income of the population is, then it makes the house unaffordable to those who really need it.

The session moved on to discuss the areas outside the city of Kimball. Tim Nolting, Kimball County Commissioner and Bushnell homeowner said, “I believe the whole Kimball county’s housing situation is complex”.

He explained that, “the majority of the homes that you could move into (in Bushnell) are substandard. We have a certain population where that’s acceptable and as a result (when you first drive into town) have a unattractive, uninviting look.”

He believes the newest home built in Bushnell was built in the 1960’s with most being built around the turn of the century although several previously nice homes that had deteriorated so badly to become uninhabitable have now been purchased for practically nothing and are being remodeled. He believes that although the study shows a projected decrease in population in the Bushnell area, that there will actually be more people moving in because of the availability of inexpensive homes in need of rehabilitation.


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