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Housing study still necessity
June 24, 2016 Jerry Purvis   

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Although there may not be a large company moving to the area in the near future, a study to determine available housing is needed.

Last January, Western Nebraska Economic Development commissioned Hanna:Keelan Associates of Lincoln to conduct a housing study of Scotts Bluff, Morrill and Kimball Counties and their communities.

The board wanted to know if there is sufficient housing in the area to accommodate the scores of employees a large company would potentially hire.

The need for a regional housing study surfaced last year after a group of local investors proposed building a meatpacking plant east of Minatare. The plant never materialized, so the study shifted to determining the availability of housing and its condition.

“It’s still very important to have the study done,” said Michelle Coolidge, chair of the economic group. “It speaks to the potential influx of new employees and helps us assess the condition of housing that is available.”

She said the failed meatpacking plant proposal wasn’t the only reason the study should continue. “Recent layoffs in the railroad and energy industries could also affect our housing needs. Obviously, we need to know what housing is out there if we’re going to plan for the future.”

The economic development group’s members met June 16 in Bridgeport and Keith Carl, community planner with Hanna:Keelan presented some of his firm’s initial findings from the six-month study.

“Just about everything involving citizen participation has been completed,” Carl said. “We still need to conduct the regional listening sessions. The background research is finished and now we need to start making housing projections for the next five years.”

Preliminary figures show that Gering has about a 5 percent vacancy rate on existing housing and Scottsbluff is about 3.8 percent. Carl said a healthy vacancy rate is in the 6-7 percent range because the housing stock is sufficient to handle the needs of a potential employer.

In small communities, the addition of a few housing units can result in a substantial boost in the percentage numbers.

Carl said, when the target housing demand was calculated, Hanna:Keelan used the 6 percent vacancy figure needed if large companies would be more inclined to move to the area. They included pent-up demand – homeowners who want to upgrade to larger homes or owners who want to add on to existing homes. The numbers are projected over the next five years to meet demand.

For Gering, the estimated target housing demand is for 625 units. That includes a potential 16 units in the downtown area, usually on the second floor of commercial buildings. For Scottsbluff, the estimated demand is 266 units, including a potential 32 downtown units.

If Gering meets the demand for additional housing, it could add about $31.3 million to the city’s tax base. For Scottsbluff, the figure is about $54.8 million.

“We don’t expect every community to meet those numbers because that could put a potential burden on existing infrastructure,” Carl said. “The availability of lots will also have an impact on how much new housing can be built.”

In July, Hanna:Keelan is planning a number listening sessions in several member communities to get input from council members and the public, which will be included in the final proposal.

“There are some inaccuracies in the numbers, but this is still a preliminary report,” said WNED Gering representative Larry Gibbs.
“We’ll get corrected information back to them as soon as possible. Otherwise, I think we’re making progress. We still need to know what’s going on in the community. People still want to move into town, and we have a shortage of rental housing.”
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