Nearly every conversation in McCook and Southwest Nebraska touches upon housing.
Maybe it is a current resident who would like to move into a larger home but can’t find anything suitable to move into. Perhaps it is a young person who would like to move back but can’t find anything suitable or affordable. Sometimes it is a business which would like to expand but knows there won’t be adequate housing for new employees. Or perhaps it is an employer trying to attract skilled labor but the spouse won’t agree to anything currently on the market.
All of these are barriers in McCook’s current housing market, an issue the McCook Economic Development Corp. is trying overcome using the 2022 McCook Community Housing Study. The housing study began in 2021 by conducting community surveys and studying local data and was recently released as a 142-page document by Hanna:Keelan Associates, a community planning and research firm. The 2022 study included more than 550 participants with 430 of those from inside the city limits, determining the barriers to affordable, suitable housing.
Based on the survey, demand is greatest for units with three or more bedrooms at or above the $345,000 purchase price or two or three bedroom rental units between $396-$890/month. To meet workforce population needs, the community also needs three-bedroom units at the $180,000 price point and three-bedroom rental units at $580/month. Additionally at any given time, there are only 20 houses on the market in McCook. “And more than likely, those two dozen houses are on each end of the price spectrum,” MEDC Executive Director Charlie McPherson said. “There simply isn’t a lot of houses in the ‘sweet spot’ of affordability or they aren’t available for long.”
On a scale of 1-5, single-family housing scored the highest need, but was closely followed by rental housing and housing for first-time homebuyers. MEDC Housing Director Amanda Engell added that McCook could have a higher population based just on the number of workers. “We have a large number of people who are working here but are having to commute, simply because they can’t find a house,” she said.
McCook last completed a housing study in 2013 and made some decisions based on those results. Over the past decade, the MEDC constructed and now oversees the Quillan Courts low-income housing and Clary Villages low-income senior duplexes, but there is still a lack of housing. And even with the new units, Clary Village and Quillan Courts both have a waiting list of a year and the McCook Housing Authority is at least six-months out.
If the problem hasn’t improved over the past decade, why did McCook need a new study? Developers and potential funders require up-to-date statistics if they are going to enter a market, McPherson said. “They need to know they are working with correct data before they are going to devote time and money to the community,” McPherson said. “They have to see a need in the market and this study does that.” Engell added, “We knew there was a need, but we needed to know what the demand was for rentals and middle income housing.” She added, “We also discovered a need for upper-end housing and move-in ready residences.”
The process to address the housing problem may seem slow but housing is the main focus of the MEDC and one of the reasons the board created the housing director position filled by Engell. They hope to be more aggressive when obtaining properties to build upon, including two recently purchased and a third which was donated. McPherson said the EDC will leverage local, statewide and federal resources based upon the study. The study will also be used to apply for federal funds, such as the ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds which came out earlier this year. He cited incentives since such as tax-increment financing (TIF), low-interest loans and possibly grants with the ultimate goal of utilizing a revolving loan program.
But McCook and Southwest Nebraska is not alone in its’ housing situation. “We’re one of 100s of communities which are short on housing,” McPherson said, “so we need to use those resources to attract developers to come and build here.” He added, “We need to be intentional and use this study and our resources if we want to overcome our housing shortage.”
This Community Housing Study was funded by the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA) and McCook Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The Housing Study was completed with the guidance and direction of MEDC and local leadership.
The complete 142-page housing study is available on the MEDC website, www.mcookne.org.
Author: Ronda Graff – MCFF