Briese tackles lack of rural housing
March 5, 2020
In the town halls I’ve held across the 41st district, as well as visits at the Capitol in Lincoln, many of you have brought up housing. Rural workforce housing is among the top issues holding Nebraska back from our true economic potential. Certainly, the high burden of property taxes across Nebraska is having a negative impact on the availability of rural housing: not only are property taxes high in our small towns, but the ripple effects of high property taxes on the economy are felt hard in rural Nebraska. There are a lot of negotiations going on behind the scenes to work to get meaningful property tax relief across the finish line in Nebraska, but there are a number of other things the Legislature has had the opportunity to do for rural housing.
In my first year in the Legislature, I introduced LB 256, which the Legislature later passed and the governor signed. That bill allowed cities and towns to enact a vacant property registration ordinance, in the hopes that those that needed it could address absentee property owners who make property values fall and crucially needed housing go to waste by leaving homes to sit empty and fall apart over years.
Since coming to the Legislature, I have also supported a number of bills from other senators which have made meaningful impacts in giving our communities the tools they need to bring more housing to rural Nebraska. Sen. Williams introduced LB 518 in 2017, which I co-sponsored. That bill created the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund, which offers grants to support workforce development in rural Nebraska for communities working to address housing shortages.
While nothing is a cure-all, many good bills have given leaders in rural Nebraska more tools in their tool belts to address the housing issue, and the last few years, there has been a lot of buzz around another potential tool. Sen. Quick introduced LB 424 last year, which would have allowed smaller communities across Nebraska to create land banks, which currently only Omaha is allowed to have.
A land bank is a government-owned entity which can address a specific kind of problem property: the money losers. At a certain point, a property has so many issues, whether that’s unlivable buildings, vandalism, unfavorable location or something else, that to purchase it, rehabilitate it and develop the property would cost more than anyone could hope to earn back when it came time to sell the property. A land bank is able to address these problem spots in a community because it doesn’t need to turn a profit from buying and developing the spot. A land bank can buy up a run-down warehouse, tear everything down and turn the place into an empty lot, ripe for development, and lose money in the process. The land bank, as a government entity, can then replenish the funds spent on that property by taking a small portion of the property taxes collected on the increased value of the property over the next few years.
Remember that the property taxes on this property are now much higher than they would have been had the land bank not stepped in, so school districts, cities, counties and other property-tax-collecting entities are still ahead in terms of revenue from the property, even after what the land bank takes out. No private entity could do this.
I don’t believe that a land bank is the right answer for every community, and LB 424 would not force the concept on anyone. It would simply give communities that needed it one more tool. In the years that the Legislature has been discussing land banks, I have yet to hear from any resident of the 41st district against the concept. I have, however, heard from many of you in favor, from mayors and city council members to economic developers to private housing developers. I am hopeful that LB 424 will help our small communities keep working on the housing issue.
Responding to constituents is my top priority. I can be reached at [email protected], and you can call my office at 402-471-2631.