Op-Ed in Omaha World Herald
OTOC leader Dennis Walsh and Restoring Dignity Executive Director Hannah Wyble published an op-ed in the paper outlining what an effective housing policy should have to prevent the furthering of substandard rental housing.
Read the article here: Midlands Voices: Omaha needs to provide effective, affordable reform of rental oversight
And in case you missed it, here’s the editorial cartoon from Sunday, Feb. 9:
Call your council member today!
The City of Omaha is currently drafting a City ordinance to head off action by the Unicameral on Sen Wayne’s LB 85 which requires the City to register and periodically inspect all rental property in Omaha.
The Mayor and Council will make decisions over the next two weeks that will affect the health and safety of families and vitality of our neighborhoods for years to come.
Tell Mayor Stothert and your City Council member you want a strong ordinance requiring both Registration and Proactive Inspection. See below what OTOC believes the city needs to adopt.
Talking points- What OTOC believes must be in place for real rental property reform:
- Require registration of all rental properties. The city tracks who owns cats and dogs but does not track who owns rental property. Omaha should emulate Council Bluffs, which uses stiff fines for non-registration to attain an estimated participation rate of 85 percent. Registration data must be online, easily accessible and include records of code violations and all names of LLC owners.
- Inspect all registered properties periodically to identify unsafe and unhealthy conditions. If the city conducted 13,000 inspections per year, that could cover all rental properties in three years if random sampling was used within multi-unit properties. Landlords with good track records should be inspected less often than landlords with poor ones. City staff testified at the public hearing on LB 85 that eight to 15 new inspectors would be needed for inspections on a three-year cycle. That is effective and manageable.
- Use modest registration fees to fully fund the system. An annual registration fee on landlords averaging $2.55 per unit per month would generate $2.1 million per year devoted to proactive code enforcement, at negligible cost to either landlords or tenants. That is affordable.
- Make the education of tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities an essential function of code enforcement. Start by requiring each rental property to display a poster in appropriate languages with contact numbers for code enforcement and supportive agencies. Education plus inspections are needed to ensure health and safety, just as in the food industry. Health impacts of poor housing can be worse than consuming bad food. We have rules for inspections of food producers that serve public health quite well.
- Go back to court to get the changes needed to run proper code enforcement. City staff says that, because of a 2015 consent decree, sometimes they spend one hour conducting an inspection, but then two hours at the office filling out paperwork. In contrast, Council Bluffs inspectors spend almost all day in the field, and support personnel complete paperwork. The consent decree allows the city to seek changes to accommodate “changes in circumstances, or administrative operating efficiencies.” Now is the time to gain these efficiencies.
Mayor Stothart: firstname.lastname@example.org 402-444-5555
Festersen: Pete.Festersen@cityofomaha.org 402-444-5527
Gray: Ben.Gray@cityofomaha.org 402-444-5524
Jerram: Chris.Jerram@cityofomaha.org 402-444-5525
Palermo: Vinny.Palermo@cityofomaha.org 402-444-5522
Pahls: Rich.Pahls@cityofomaha.org 402-444-5528
Harding: Brinker.Harding@cityofomaha.org 402-444-5523
Melton: Aimee.Melton@cityofomaha.org 402-444-5526
First Step made towards proactive City practice
OTOC leaders attended the Jan. 29 City Council Meeting where the city decided to postpone their vote for TIF funding for local landlord who has substandard properties. In another unprecedented decision, the Council found that they are able to take in account a property owner’s other properties when approving TIF dollars for new projects. The council voted 4-3 to give Dave Paladino time to improve his current code violations and show he is making strides to improve all of his properties.
OTOC appleauds City Council for taking a good first step towards recognizing the need for better housing code enforcement so that rental properties do not reach the level of deterioration of Yale Park and Dave Paladino’s properties brought to light in the Jan 11 TIF hearing at City Council (see below for more details). We need to continue to reverse a decades long deterioration of affordable housing and rental property in Omaha.
“City Council sent a message to developers and property owners they have to maintain their existing rental properties before coming to the city seeking tax payer funded handouts for new development,” said OTOC Housing Team leader Susan Kuhlman. “Now the City Council and Mayor must adopt an ordinance which prevents the deplorable conditions existing in way too many rental units” said Kuhlman.
OTOC leader Dennis Walsh said “I am glad to hear that two Council members have asked the law department to develop an ordinance based on LaVista’s model which requires both registration and periodic inspection of all rental property. That’s the only way we will stop the ongoing deterioration of rental property in our community.”
State Hearing for Rental Inspection Bill (LB 85)
On Tuesday, the Urban Affairs Committee of the Nebraska Unicameral heard citizen testimonies on LB 85, which would require Omaha and Lincoln to develop a Rental Property Registration and Inspection Ordinance to ensure minimum health and safety standards are met in all rental properties. OTOC leaders testified in support of LB 85 along with tenants and other organizations like Restoring Dignity, Together, Family Housing Advisory Services, Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance, and others who submitted written testimony. WOWT, KETV, Omaha World Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and 1011 Now all provided news coverage of the hearing.
We encourage everyone to continue to keep the pressure on legislators and the City of Omaha by taking the survey that was put out by Mayor Stothert.
Based on OTOC’s research on best practices in other cities, including nearby LaVista, Council Bluffs and Carter Lake, OTOC takes the following positions:
Strongly agree on questions 1,2,4,and 5
Strongly disagree on question 3
Using Taxpayer dollars for inspections
OTOC believes the fourth question is somewhat misleading because it suggest we might have to raise more taxes for inspectors. It reads: “Taxes for More Inspectors: I support more taxpayer dollars to be spent to fund a significant increase in the number of inspectors to inspect Omaha rental properties.”
OTOC, working with 9 organizations active in housing in Omaha, has developed a a proposal for a rental property registration and inspection program that is funded by REGISTRATION FEES paid for by the Landlords. These fees would amount to an average of only $2.50 a month per unit to be paid by the landlord, not taxpayers.
Rental Property Code Violations are already costing taxpayers lots
OTOC has found that 75% of current code violations and city funded demolitions since 2015 are in rental properties. The City is already forced to spend significant tax payer dollars to condemn and demolish rental housing that landlords let deteriorate and then abandon. OTOC wants the City to shift to pro-active inspection to reduce the deterioration of rental properties and to maintain the stock of affordable housing in older neighborhoods. Click below to see the proposal that OTOC has provided to the City of Omaha.
To take the Mayor’s survey, Click Here
City recognizes need for change at TIF hearing
OTOC helped organize testimony surrounding Tax Increment Financing for Omaha landlord, Dave Paladino. Paladino Development Groups has thousands of low-income units that rent to a wide range of tenants, including many refugees. In the unprecedented hearing, diverse testimonies from tenants, Omaha Tenants United, concerned citizens, and a variety of agencies shared stories of Paladino’s treatment of tenants and business practices, lack of maintenance and upkeep, and unsafe and unsanitary conditions. TIF cases tend to be automatically approved, but the city council, who listened for over an hour and a half to emotional, moving testimony, voted to postpone to vote for three weeks. They want to look into TIF approval laws, which currently do not allow decisions to be made based on the applicant’s other business practices. Click hear for complete Omaha World Herald coverage of the TIF hearing.
Need for enforcement
OTOC testified neutrally (read Gloria Austerberry’s testimony here), saying that Paladino does have a bad reputation among tenants, but works well with housing agencies that have case workers to hold him accountable. He meets the standards that are enforced, but when there is no enforcement, he gets away with neglecting properties and using a business model that seems to exploit tenants (read Hannah Wyble of Restoring Dignity’s testimony at the hearing for examples), proving again that proactive inspections of units will keep properties up to code when landlords don’t do it themselves.
Several testifiers called for inspections on all of Paladino’s properties if he is to qualify for tax dollars on his new development project, and guarantees that rent will remain at market rate (read testimony by Jack Dunn from Policy Research Innovation and Rosalyn Volkmer).
OTOC continues to call the City of Omaha to adopt a rental registration AND inspection ordinance so that all rental properties are routinely inspected. The testimony at this hearing showed city council and city staff that Yale Park is not the only substandard property in Omaha. Council member Pete Festersen said in his remarks that the City Council Planning Committee, which has been meeting regularly since Yale Park last September is getting ready to release it’s recommendation on what the city can do to address substandard rental housing. It is clear the tides are turning in the city, and that there is growing attention to substandard rentals and city code enforcement. The question is, when the committee’s plan is released, will it prevent another Yale Park?