When Blair City Council member Brad Andersen's request for the appointment of a task force to address the lack of available housing was granted in 2017, there was some skepticism as to what the group could accomplish, including from then-mayor Jim Realph.
"I recall at that meeting he said 'I'm afraid this is an impossible task, but I hope you guys can do something about it,'" Andersen said.
But, as he stood in front of a newly-constructed home on the former Dana College campus Thursday morning, Andersen acknowledged the work of a group of people who made something that was said to be impossible a reality.
Andersen's comment came as representatives from the city, Eriksen Construction, the Nebraska Department of Economic Development (NDED), Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA), Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) Foundation, Washington County Bank, Gateway Development Corporation, Blair Area Chamber of Commerce and residents gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the first two new houses constructed in what is now Transformation Hill Addition.
"This was a team effort and I believe a great example of what can be done when a group of motivated, concerned citizens gets involved and works together to solve a problem," Andersen said. "That's the key here. It wasn't the government that did this, it was all the community that got together and pulled the wagon and we got this across the finish line."
The homes were built utilizing the MAPA Foundation Rural Workforce Housing low interest revolving loan fund.
City Administrator Rod Storm said the revolving loan fund, which totals $977,000, was established with a $351,000 grant from the NDED; a $250,000 grant from NIFA, which was matched by the city; a $100,000 grant from MAPA; and $26,000 in contributions from Washington County Bank and Gateway Development Corporation.
The city worked with the MAPA Foundation to apply for the funding, Storm said.
Storm said the goal of the revolving loan fund is to help build workforce housing — houses priced at $275,000 and under — in Blair. Eriksen Construction is the first company to take advantage of the revolving loan fund. When finished, there will be eight houses along 27th Street that fall into the workforce housing category. One of the houses recently completed has already been sold.
The city is also working to develop workforce housing on the south end of the former campus. On Tuesday, the city council approved the sale of six of the 30 lots and Storm expects additional lot sales to be on the city council's meeting agenda on Sept. 10.
"The goal is to have spec homes available on the market so when somebody wants to locate in the community, they've got something to look at," Storm said. "We hope to build between 7-10 homes in the first year."
Storm said funding through the Rural Workforce Development Fund was a vital part of what the city was trying to do with redevelopment of at least part of the Dana campus, noting that the taxes paid by the new homeowners will help repay the cost of demolishing the Omaha Village buildings, which was done through tax increment financing.
Council member Jon Stewart offered kudos to Andersen for "prodding us to actually go and do something."
The new houses are part of Stewart's council ward.
"I'm just extremely happy with it and I hope we can continue this little bit of momentum here and see that thing up on the hill gain some more momentum," Stewart said.
Mayor Rich Hansen said he'd be remiss in his duties as mayor if he didn't thank Realph for his work. He also thanked Storm for his work.
"Rod is a rock star in finding money for Blair and for sharing that money with not only current citizens, but hopefully future citizens," Hansen said, also acknowledging the work of Assistant City Administrator Phil Green.
In addition to the workforce housing, Eriksen Construction has two other phases of development of the area, including seven, two-unit condominium buildings and houses along College Drive.
Andersen thanked Vice President Jenny Eriksen for her work on the task force and the company for "believing in the project and putting money behind it."
Andersen said the houses being built along 27th Street are just the start of the city's housing growth.
"Since the task force was established, we have platted 135 new lots in town in two years," Andersen said.
Suggested head: Council approves sale of 6 lots in Transformation Hill Addition
By Teresa Hoffman
The sale of lots in the Transformation Hill Addition on the former Dana College campus has begun, with the Blair City Council approving agreements with two companies last week.
At its Aug. 27 meeting, the city council approved the sale of three lots to Bader Construction, LLC of Bennington and three lots to WSG, Inc. of Omaha.
Each lot was sold for $20,000.
At the direction of the city council, an individual builder can only buy three lots at a time.
Under the terms of the agreement, the builders agree to secure a building permit and start construction on the first house within 120 days and the two remaining houses within a year.
If those stipulations are not met, Assistant City Administrator Phil Green said the city council could choose to take those lots back from the builders and sell to someone else.
"The one thing we didn't want to do is have somebody hold on to those lots and wait for some opportune time or see land values go up, something like that and try to make a profit that way," Green said. "We need housing built."
Council member Kevin Hall asked if any of the companies the city has talked to had issues with that timeframe.
"None have blinked an eye at all," Green said. "In fact, some have acted like they are going to move forward as quickly as they can on all of them."
The city-owned lots are located in the southern section of the former campus. There are 30 lots in all.
Green said there are at least two other contractors who are looking at purchasing lots.
"Hopefully, they will be on the agenda for the next council meeting," he said. "We have sent this information to several others as well who are considering it."