Omaha, Nebraska: Holistic Neighborhood Revitalization in Prospect Village
In 2014, the Housing and Community Development Division of the city of Omaha, Nebraska, began its targeted neighborhood revitalization effort with the launch of the Prospect Village Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative. The city chose the northern Omaha neighborhood because of its high level of distress and the development of the 75 North community; the city identified the 75 North redevelopment effort as a signature project that would reinforce the Prospect Village initiative. The city and its local partners worked for two years to improve all aspects of life in Prospect Village through service delivery, capacity building, and the remediation of blighted and substandard properties. In 2016, the city was recognized with an Agency Award of Merit from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials for its work in Prospect Village.
A Holistic Approach for a Distressed Neighborhood
The Prospect Village Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative addressed the community’s interconnected problems while building the capacity of partner organizations. The two-year initiative focused on three broad issues: housing and blight mitigation, neighborhood amenities, and community activities and empowerment. “We try to introduce services that touch on all aspects of life in a neighborhood,” says William Lukash, assistant director of the Housing and Community Development Division. Indeed, a central aspect of the targeted neighborhood effort is the holistic nature of its interventions.
Prospect Village, a 60-block area around the historic Prospect Hill cemetery, includes the 23-acre site of a dilapidated public housing complex that had been demolished in 2009. Redevelopment of the site began in 2011, when the Seventy Five North Revitalization Corporation started 75 North, a mixed-income, mixed-use project. 75 North, intended to be an anchor for revitalization in northern Omaha, follows the Purpose Built Communities model championed by Omaha native Warren Buffet. When completed, 75 North will include retail space, a greenhouse, community spaces, and 223 units of rental housing, including a 61-unit development for seniors.
Launching Revitalization with a Two-Year Process
The initiative’s housing and blight mitigation work included housing construction, rehabilitation, and repair as well as health-minded housing improvements. In 2015, the city purchased 28 lots, demolished 13 unfit structures, and conveyed the properties to Holy Name Housing, which built 30 houses for rent by families making no more than 60 percent of the area median income (AMI), who have the option to buy their residences after 15 years. The state of Nebraska’s Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation program rehabilitated or reconstructed 36 houses occupied by owners making no more than 80 percent of AMI. The city’s Emergency Repair program, for households making no more than 50 percent of AMI, performed 19 emergency repairs for 16 households. The work done through this program included repairs to heating systems, water heaters, and electrical and plumbing systems. A similar city program for homeowners over 60 years old, the Handyman program, made 44 repairs on an income-based fee structure.
The two health-related improvement programs were the Lead Paint Hazard Control and Healthy Homes programs. The lead hazard control program remediated lead in 7 homes occupied or frequently visited by children under 7 years old, and the Healthy Homes program made energy-efficiency and health-related upgrades to 20 owner-occupied houses. Upgrades through the Healthy Homes program included measures affecting indoor air quality such as ventilation, moisture intrusion, paint stabilization, and remediation of nonlead health hazards. Energy-efficiency improvements included window replacement and insulation.
The initiative also addressed blight by replacing abandoned and unmaintained vacant lots with neighborhood amenities, which also promoted community involvement by enlisting neighborhood volunteers. Community gardeners worked with nonprofit partners Big Garden, City Sprouts, No More Empty Pots, and the Refugee Empowerment Center to establish two permanent gardens and an urban orchard. The city published Omaha’s Vacant Lot Toolkit to help individuals and groups transform vacant lots into green spaces. In addition, public arts projects such as murals and art festivals fostered a sense of pride in place and promoted resident engagement in neighborhood issues.
To encourage social connections and resident empowerment, initiative partners provided free classes such as financial management training through the Financial Hope Collaborative, parenting classes through Boys Town, and homeowner education through Family Housing Advisory Services. Other programs included the RAW DAWGS program, a gang-prevention, self-esteem, and character-development program for boys aged 5 to 13 created by the nonprofit Compassion in Action. The most significant new empowerment program, says Lukash, was the establishment of the Prospect Village Neighborhood Association, where neighbors can organize to undertake communal activities.
Most of the initiative’s implementation funding, which totaled more than $10 million, came from the Community Development Block Grant program (table 1). The city also provided money from programs such as brownfield funds, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, and HUD’s Lead Hazard Control program. Philanthropic sources, including the Home Depot Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, provided additional funding.
|Demolition of unfit/unsafe structures||$115,414|
|Owner-occupied repairs and rehabilitations||1,613,874|
|New home construction||7,850,000|
|Lead Paint Hazard Control program||80,251|
|Healthy Homes program||150,000|
|Park and playground improvements||161,558|
|Education and Empowerment|
|Boys Town’s Common Sense Parenting||2,700|
|Financial Hope Collaborative’s financial management classes||10,000|
|Compassion in Action’s RAW DAWGS||70,000|
Lessons Learned and New Revitalization Initiatives
Many of the more than 25 organizations that participated in the Prospect Village Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative continue their holistic revitalization work in the neighborhood today. Building on the success of Prospect Village, the city conducted a similar targeted neighborhood revitalization initiative in the south Omaha neighborhood of Deer Park in 2016 and 2017. Although the Deer Park initiative did not benefit from a nearby project such as 75 North, it did have something that Prospect Village lacked: an extant, engaged neighborhood association. From these two initiatives, the city learned several lessons. The Housing and Community Development Division came to appreciate the importance of engaging residents and grassroots organizations early and often. The city also learned that a targeted neighborhood initiative should take at least three years because of the volume of implementation work and the amount of time needed for residents to develop neighborhood goals. Lukash also reports that future initiatives will address more issues affecting youth, such as safe routes to school.
Based on the city’s experiences with Prospect Village and Deer Park, the third initiative, which will begin in 2018, will last three years. That initiative will focus on a neighborhood in north Omaha called Neighborhood Action and Facts (named for its neighborhood association), and the city’s effort will emphasize working with the association and other grassroots organizations; two planners have been assigned to the neighborhood to ensure a close working relationship. The upcoming initiative will also see one of the community partners, ONE Omaha, promote asset-based community development. The city will also use the Omaha Municipal Land Bank, which was formed in 2014 but not able to participate in previous initiatives, to simplify issues of land assembly.
National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials. 2016. “NAHRO 2016 Agency Awards of Merit in Housing and Community Development,” 14. Accessed 18 October 2017; Interview with William Lukash, assistant director of the Omaha Housing and Community Development Division, 1 November 2017.×
Correspondence from William Lukash, 8 November 2017.×
Seventy Five North Revitalization Corporation. n.d. “About.” Accessed 20 October 2017; Interview with William Lukash, 1 November 2017; Steve Jordan. 2011. "North O Plan Backed by Buffetts," news, 3 October. Accessed 1 December 2017; Omaha Housing and Community Development Division. 2015. “Prospect Village Initiative.” Accessed 23 October 2017.×
Omaha Housing and Community Development Division. 2015. “Prospect Village Initiative.” Accessed 23 October 2017.×
Omaha Housing and Community Development Division. 2015. “Prospect Village Initiative.” Accessed 23 October 2017; Correspondence from William Lukash, 5 December 2017.×
Interview with William Lukash, 1 November 2017; Omaha Housing and Community Development Division. 2015. “Prospect Village Initiative.” Accessed 23 October 2017.×
Correspondence from William Lukash, 8 November 2017.×
Interview with William Lukash, 1 November 2017; Correspondence from William Lukash, 8 November 2017; Omaha Housing and Community Development Division. 2015. “Prospect Village Initiative.” Accessed 23 October 2017.×
Interview with William Lukash, 1 November 2017; Correspondence from William Lukash, 8 November 2017.×