Land banks, redevelopment, creative modular home design and expanded financing all could help fix the housing shortage in Hastings.
Those were recommendations that came out of Hastings’ housing study conducted in 2020 by Marvin Planning Consultants of David City.
Marvin Planning Consultants representatives spoke about the study’s findings during the Hastings City Council’s work session on Thursday.
Keith Marvin was present in the council chambers, while Aaron Sorrell with Community Planning Insights of Dayton, Ohio, appeared remotely from his office in Dayton.
Work on the housing study began in summer 2019 with funding from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority. Other funding sources included Hastings Economic Development Corp., Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce, the city of Hastings and the Community Redevelopment Authority.
The first step was data collection. Then came meetings with several focus groups, followed by a survey.
“In January 2020, prior to COVID, we were fortunate to come together and have some face-to-face interactions with a bunch of focus group committees,” Marvin said, referring to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.
A survey was open through May.
The survey saw 748 online responses. Eleven more people handed in hard copies, so the total number of responses was 759.
By comparison, Marvin worked on a similar study in 2018 with North Platte and Lincoln County. That survey saw 576 responses.
“You guys did a great job of getting the word out and pushing,” he said. “That makes our jobs a lot easier.”
The study was finalized from November to January.
Among priorities identified include new affordable rental housing, new rental housing, new for-sale housing, housing for small households, homeowner rehabilitation assistance, assistance to purchase a home, and energy efficiency improvements.
The consultants heard concern that landlords aren’t taking the choice voucher from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Which then really limits the ability for those low-income residents to find quality housing,” Sorrell said.
There is an inspection process, so those units tend to be higher quality than properties that are cash only or cater to individuals with damaged credit or other issues that keep the renter from being able to get market-rate units.
“Having that limited pool further drives some of the most vulnerable population to a segment of the rental market that, from what we’ve heard, in some cases is predatory,” he said.
Hastings Public Schools officials told the consultants the district is averaging 117 homeless students per year. Of that number, 75-100 are in a domestic shelter.
Representatives from Crossroads Mission Avenue told the consultants they also knew of three to five people on the street, two to three couch surfers, 10 people living in vehicles and seven to 10 families living in a motel.
Wages in Hastings aren’t keeping up with housing costs.
The consultants highlighted dwellings they called “other vacant units,” which are abandoned houses.
From 2010 to 2018, the number of “other vacant units” was nearly 400 every year.
“That is an area of concern because those are the units that tend to be the most blighting impact in a neighborhood, and they also tend to be the most difficult to address because they don’t have an active owner who is either trying to market it for rent or sales,” Sorrell said. “These are the zombie units that have plagued neighborhoods.”
The study recommended prioritizing “other vacant units” when crafting redevelopment plans.
The creation of land banks — rehabilitating “other vacant dwellings” — is one of the recommendations included in the study.
Lisa Parnell-Rowe, development services director, said CRA representatives discussed the development of land banks.
She said as the city updates codes, there are creative housing options using shipping containers that are economical. There is federal assistance for low-income housing and vacant land available.
“I think there are some things on the cusp that fit nicely into this,” she said.
Parnell-Rowe said she wishes the city could be more proactive about code enforcement.
City Building Inspector Mark Evans is trying to keep up.
At the time the consultants were looking, during the study preparation, there were zero houses under $100,000 in Hastings.
“If you go back to what the Realtors are telling us, there is nothing on the market under $100,000 and the biggest need is the 140s to 180s,” Marvin said. “This is starting to back up a lot of what we heard in our conversations.”
The study included a conditions analysis based on figures from the Adams County Assessor’s Office.
Within Hastings, 1,680 residential dwellings are considered below normal to very poor condition. That amount is about 19% of all homes in Hastings.
Marvin uses average or normal as the starting point for what qualifies as blighting and substandard.
“That type of condition is so pivotal depending on the maintenance and everything is done on it,” Marvin said.
Ward 1 had the greatest number of units that were below normal.
“We’ve known this was a problem for a very long time,” said Councilwoman Jeniffer Beahm, who along with Ginny Skutnik represents Ward 1 and south Hastings.
Ward 1 has more of the poor condition housing stock in the community — almost 20% of dwellings are rated poor.
Hastings has smaller than desired vacancy rates.
Sorrell said Hastings’ current rental vacancy rate was 5.3%
“You want vacancy rates,” he said. “A healthy vacancy rate for rental units is somewhere in the 7-10% range. Some people will argue to go a little higher.”
Vacancy rates allow for available units to accommodate new residents moving into the community.
The average ownership vacancy rate around the country is about 1.5%
In Hastings, the ownership vacancy rate was 1.1%.
The consultants heard from the focus groups that there are a number of people commuting into Hastings who would love to live in the community, but can’t afford it or can’t find the type of product that fits their need.
The current housing ownership demand gap is 282 to 347 houses for sale. At the time these numbers were calculated there were 71 units for sale.
When it comes to rentals, the current demand gap is 813 to 974 units. There were 213 units available at the time.
Looking at future demand, by 2025 the combined ownership and rental units needed are anticipated to increase by 6 to 18 units from current figures.
“I think our estimates are on the conservative side,” Sorrell said. “I think there is more demand in the community. The strategy now is how do you convert this need into a product that is affordable? That’s really where the challenge is.”
Councilman Chuck Rosenberg thanked the consultants. He said the factors outlined in the study show why Hastings has seen little to no growth.
Rosenberg said he walked the entire Ward 3 when he campaigned in 2018.
“I can tell you where the houses are bad and where they are really not bad,” he said.
Properties lacking maintenance is among the top complaints Rosenberg said he receives from constituents.
He said he has wanted a code enforcement person in the budget, but the funding isn’t there.
Beahm said this study helps bring to the forefront what she and Skutnik have long said when it comes to Housing costs in Hastings.
“We talk to people all the time where we live who say the housing here is not affordable,” she said. “That’s why my husband and I bought our house where we did. We love where we live, but we are not every person in this community. We really need to take a look at the affordability of homes here. Because as we continue to build homes and they are out of that price range we’re hurting ourselves.”
The housing study presentation comes as council members are in the process of scheduling their annual retreat.
“We’re in a perfect time to have this presented to us,” City Administrator Dave Ptak said.
A link to the entire report is available on the reports and studies page at the city of Hastings website, www.cityofhastings.org.