Successful program may face funding cuts

Friday, September 11, 2015
An East Fifth Street home the McCook Economic Development Corp. Purchase Rehab Resell Program plans to list for sale in the near future. (Bruce Baker/McCook Gazette)

McCOOK, Neb. -- One of the more successful housing programs in McCook could be facing a lack of funds in the near future.

The McCook Economic Development Corp. has been involved or at least assisted with the majority of local housing initiatives occurring in the area since its inception in 1985. MEDC's Purchase Rehab Resell Program began making a dynamic contribution to McCook's housing shortage in 2007, an accomplishment which may be challenging to repeat going forward according to housing officials.

The both publicly and privately funded MEDC established its housing program in 2001 through a Nebraska Department of Economic Development grant and began providing homebuyer education classes and other programs. The MEDC Purchase Rehab Resell Program was created in 2005 and awarded $200,000 in grant funds. The PRR program contributed one home to McCook's housing inventory during the first two years of the program and has seen increasing momentum since, according to MEDC Housing Development Director Mary Kircher.

Kircher was hired in 2007 and has overseen the PRR program since. Her salary is directly paid and dependent on grant funds received for the program. She has completed and sold 10 homes in the eight years since assuming the position, a contribution to McCook's housing inventory unprecedented over that timeframe.

"I am working on the 11th and looking for the 12th," said Kircher during a recent visit with the Gazette.

Kircher said the PRR program is preparing to list a home at 1106 E. Fifth Street and looking to purchase another property. When the latter is completed it will deplete this year's grant funds from NDED and future grant funds are questionable due to a trend towards rentals, according to Kircher.

"With the completion of the next one, my grant will be exhausted and it is doubtful that we will be awarded another. NDED's focus the last couple of years has been towards rentals instead of homeownership," said Kircher.

While obtaining funding for housing programs has become increasingly difficult, finding qualified contractors has consistently been a challenge for the program.

"I have always had difficulty finding qualified contractors. Using state and/or federal money always triggers 'rules' that ordinarily would not apply. Having Lead Safe Work practice certification and now Renovate Right Certification has disqualified many from being qualified to work, but honestly it has been difficult even to get contractors to bid," said Kircher. She said she heard rumblings pertaining to contractors being frustrated with out-of-area contractors receiving local bids but she believed the real issue was a lack of proper certifications or local prices simply being too high.

"In my opinion the housing situation is in dire straits. The selling inventory has been so low, as low as 15 single family homes, that there have been some prospective new residents giving up their new jobs and moving back to where they came from, or moved on to towns with better housing opportunities to find employment," said Kircher.

Kircher said many buyers are settling for whatever is available in hopes that other options will be available in the future.

"Rentals are in short supply and unfortunately the ones that might be available shouldn't be lived in due to health and safety reasons. Rentals are commanding a higher price as well which causes financial burdens on families," said Kircher.

Kircher said there is no doubt a local housing shortage exists. While she is concerned there is a great number of vacant or barely used homes in McCook which could help the situation, she is also optimistic with progress made by a couple of recent housing developments.

"I do believe that the new subdivisions, Clary Village and North Pointe, will hopefully act as a catalyst for possible movement," said Kircher, adding those developments alone weren't the solution and indicating she hoped they served as a catalyst for others.

North Pointe Properties representatives confirmed in June six residential lots are ready for construction along R Street. The development is located directly north of the Clary Village Senior Housing project on West Q Street. The Clary Village project involves construction of eight senior housing duplex units to be managed by MEDC.

Between 1980 and 1985 the City of McCook averaged more than 20 building permits issued on an annual basis for single family homes. Three of those six years the city issued more than 25 permits with a high year of 32 and low of 17.

The city has not issued more than 20 single family home building permits in one year since, according to review of data compiled by the McCook Economic Development Corp. During the 28 years between 1986 and 2014, the city issued more than 10 single family home building permits annually a total of six times, and dropped to an average of 6 permits issued annually.

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  • Mary is wonderful in the housing area. Thanks to her and the MEDC.

    -- Posted by dennis on Mon, Sep 14, 2015, at 8:16 AM
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