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City Council split on formation of affordable housing committee

Opponents' arguments include not a priority and Communism
By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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A raucous debate, regarding the formation of an affordable housing ad hoc committee, erupted at Tuesday night’s City Council workshop.

Through most of the debate, it seemed likely the proposal to form an ad hoc committee would not survive, with three councilmen – Gabriel Hydrick, Paul Joiner and Dan Karleskint – reluctant to endorse the idea. Mayor Peter Gilbert and Councilman Stan Nader spoke in favor of forming the ad hoc committee.

At separate points during the discussion, tempers flared between Nader and Hydrick and between Gilbert and Joiner.

Joiner said the council had identified other priorities at its annual retreat in January.

“Affordable housing, as a major priority, does not rise above other priorities we decided at the retreat,” Joiner said. “What are we willing to remove from the priority list to lift this up?”

Joiner, who said he would be willing to revisit the issue of affordable housing at the 2018 retreat, added that he is the only member of the council with experience building affordable housing in Lincoln. Joiner’s family built many of the existing apartments in Lincoln.

“Developers are in the business of building residences and making a profit,” Joiner said. “Do we, as a city, want to be developers or landlords? That’s not the role of the city.”

“Not everyone should own a home, in my opinion,” Joiner added, citing the costs of property taxes and homeowner’s insurance. “I have an issue with forming a committee that doesn’t have a purpose. I have a very difficult time understanding the committee’s role. My family has built thousands of units of affordable housing in Lincoln and we would build more if the numbers worked.”

Hydrick said he felt challenged separating history from government housing – comparing the availability of work-force housing to efforts made in Communist China and Russia – and decried the costs of living in California.

“I can’t afford California,” Hydrick said. “If anyone knows how difficult it is to live in California, it’s me. I have five children and work for a nonprofit. I struggle to get by.”

“I’m not saying this is Communist China but the policies and principles are all the same. The ideology is all the same,” Hydrick added. “We are not obligated to house people.”

Hydrick was also critical of a city program designed to help home-buyers, alleging the program has been mismanaged and not implemented correctly.

“We need to take an ugly look at the issues we can control in Lincoln,” Hydrick said, suggesting the city could reduce its open space requirement. “We’ve allowed people to participate in the program that didn’t need to. We’ve stripped people of opportunity.”

Bob Lowe from the St. Vincent de Paul Society called Hydrick’s comparison to Communist China “totally inappropriate.”

“We want to explore whether there are policies and programs the city could adopt that would encourage the building of affordable housing,” Lowe said. “There are very thoughtful people out there working on this issue.”

Lighthouse Counseling and Family Resource Center executive director Gary McDonald said he supported the formation of an ad hoc committee on affordable housing.

“This is an opportunity to look at streamlining the process of developing homes so developers can look at affordable housing as profitable,” McDonald said. “We’re not talking about the homeless but the workforce; firefighters and teachers.”

Joann Hilton, a Lincoln Economic Development Committee member, also endorsed the formation of an ad hoc committee on affordable housing.

“I view this as a critical issue that has not received adequate attention,” Hilton wrote in a letter to the City Council. “Wait lists for apartments in our town are often at the two-year mark.”

“It seems that we have a problem as we have not had new development of multi-unit residential in several years,” Hilton added in her letter. “The new state legislation of 15 bills, once studied, should provide some funding incentives and procedures that will induce local government to find new ways of promoting the building of multi-unit residences and lower-cost family homes.”

The discussion ended with City Manager Matt Brower promising to bring the issue back to the council with more information.