Leaders gather to learn about rental housing issues

Nearly 40 people attended a discussion at Urban Abbey, focused on the problems of substandard rental units and what can be done about them. IPL trained leaders on OTOC’s Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Team sponsored the event and attendees included landlords, renters and interested citizens.

The evening started out with Dennis Walsh, a Housing team member, who gave a presentation, with maps and fact sheets , about the city’s housing code violations since 2015. The data showed trends toward a growth in both the number of rental units in Omaha and the rising costs of those units. It also pointed out how violations and demolitions tend to be concentrated in certain zip codes. To access these maps, follow these links: Click here for graphs, Active Housing Violations by Year, Jan 2018 Active Housing ViolationsActive Violations Bar All Zip codes

His talk was followed by guest speaker Gary Fischer–Family Housing Advisory Services Legal Counsel.  He gave an in-depth report about both substandard rental housing and evictions.  His presentation included handouts of maps showing eviction notices throughout the city. He said two traits correlated to eviction notices:  poverty and locations which are highly populated by African Americans.

Mr. Fischer said Council Bluffs enacted a landlord registration and inspection ordinance after there had been five children who died in fires in substandard housing units.  Fees from that plan pay for inspections. Omaha faces resistance of landlord registration and inspection because reliable landlords do not want additional costs/burdens when they are being responsible. He noted that additional problems come from substandard housing units that have lead and dander, both adding to health problems, especially for youth. Other youth agencies are working to address this.

Mr. Fischer talked of how evictions affect school children and distributed maps and data showing which schools are most impacted. Karen McElroy, who had visited Liberty elementary along with Joe Higgs, told how that school makes a great effort to work with families who are impacted by evictions.

Mr. Fischer was followed by Terri Mahoney, a member of the Housing team, who gave a brief history of her lifelong experience as a renter and of the problems and uncertainty she has faced.

Intern Greta Carlson shared information about a program she and OTOC have developed to educate refugees and immigrants about tenants’ rights and responsibilities. It has been presented numerous times and in multiple languages.

People broke into small groups to discuss problems and possible solutions. Gloria Austerberry then brought everyone together to listen to results of the talks and hear possible solutions Attendees had the opportunity to become more involved through a variety of options listed on a signup sheet.

If you are interested in getting more involved with substandard rental housing issues in Omaha, email Charlie Gould at charles.gould@cox.net