‘Your Wallet’: Lincoln grapples with a lack of affordable housing

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Affordable housing is a problem in Nebraska and Lincoln, according to city and state officials. 

“There’s very limited supply and a lot of demand, and those dynamics kind of conspire together to really leave a lot of people on the outside looking in right now,” said Wayne Mortensen, CEO of NeighborWorks Lincoln, a nonprofit focused on affordable housing.

The City of Lincoln’s affordable housing plan says there needs to be more developments to meet the demand.  

But are all of these new developments economically reasonable? 

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The term “affordable housing” is often thrown around without clear definitions or standards.  

There are two different types. The first is natural affordable housing.  

“The naturally occurring affordable housing are those units that are a little older and are maybe a little bit behind on their upkeep. But as a result, their rental rates are much lower than these new affordable units.”

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The second is ‘Capital A’ affordable housing.  

“Usually they’re newer units, the ones that are advertising vacancy or availability,” Mortensen said. “Those are going to be more expensive and kind of out of the reach still, ironically and maybe perhaps unfortunately, for those who are on the lower ends of our economic spectrum.”  

These types of units use government subsidies to rent to families or households at a certain income range.   

The median income for a family of four in Lancaster County is around $90,000.

To qualify, you need to make 40% of that, around $36,800 for a family of four.

You would pay the program 30% of your income for rent.

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Mortensen says people who struggle the most economically are coming out of the corrections system, undocumented workers and people working two or three jobs.   

In Lincoln, it’s taking a team effort to address this problem.

“The Lincoln community is doing a really nice job of coming together to help people across the economic spectrum access safe, clean and dignifying housing,” Mortensen said, “but we can always do more.”

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