Nebraska’s nation-low 2.5% unemployment rate could both be cause for celebration and a challenge for employers across the state, says Lt. Gov. Mike Foley.
“Everywhere I go, people are begging, ‘Just send me workers, warm bodies ... and I will put them to work,’” Foley said Tuesday morning. “But when those employers find workers, the question is ‘Where are they going to live?’”
Foley’s remarks came during a groundbreaking ceremony for Victory Village, a mixed apartment-commercial development at West A Street and Lakeview Boulevard in North Platte.
The ceremony came four months after construction began on the first of two sets of 10 eight-plex apartment buildings on the north end of the site.
Those one- and two-bedroom units are expected to be available for occupancy by November, according to DP Management LLC President Brian Riley. The complex will also offer a clubhouse, pool and fitness room.
The project involves funding from the Nebraska Rural Workforce Housing Fund, which helps communities across Nebraska increase their supply of quality homes for their workforce.
The fund, part of the state’s Rural Workforce Housing Investment Act signed into law in 2017, initially provided $7 million for housing projects to communities in counties with populations of less than 100,000.
An additional $10 million was allocated in 2020 to the fund, which has led to 789 new housing units across the state — 657 of them rentals.
“We knew there was a rental shortage across the state, but this really confirmed it,” Sheryl Hiatt, the director of housing and field services with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, said during the ceremony.
The North Platte Area Chamber and Development Corp. was among 14 grant recipients in the program’s initial rollout. It received a second grant this past year.
Hiatt said Victory Village is the program’s largest multifamily project so far in terms of the number of units.
The Rural Workforce Housing Fund program is “addressing a critical need across the state,” Hiatt said.
The North Platte chamber’s grants from the fund are being used with its “Shot in the Arm” venture, which reimburses builders of single-family homes and apartments for a portion of their construction costs with both local and state funds.
The Union Pacific Railroad and Great Plains Health made pledges to help the chamber cover the local matching contributions for the Rural Workforce Housing Fund.
Gary Person, the chamber’s president and CEO, said Shot in the Arm’s first two phases have produced 217 housing units in the community. Fifty more units are scheduled for Phase III.
Person said Phase II of Shot in the Arm funneled $6,000 per unit from the state housing fund to two major apartment projects in the city.
Victory Village received $480,000 from the state for its first 80 units, and the 48-unit expansion of Pacific Place Apartments got $288,000 from the state fund.
Person said the volume of new market-rate apartments in the city is the highest it’s been in decades.
“It was a tough challenge,” he said of the work leading to the new developments. “We went through a lot of public hearings, public meetings and community meeting settings. We got beat up a little along the way.
“It’s been a couple generations, maybe three, since something like this has occurred. We have the momentum now, but we have to keep it going.”