Lots of local news here for you today, plus some insight into why we've been hearing so much about new student housing developments (and why what's being built is so expensive).
Erin Grace at the Omaha World Herald reflects on the deaths of two young children in Omaha. Abby Whitford, aged 10, was killed crossing a street on foot in Bellevue. Jaycoby Estrada, aged 11, was killed when his bicycle was struck by a semi. Two more children were hit by cars in the same period.
Last year 24 pedestrians in Nebraska were killed; that's a 62% jump from the previous 4-year average. This year is on track to be another record year; already 9 pedestrians have been killed.
"I still have my children walk places, but I remain haunted by the deaths of sweet Abby and Jaycoby. I’m haunted because I’m a parent and that kind of loss seems inconceivable. I’m haunted because I’m a driver, and in that role I could potentially place perfect strangers in harm’s way.
It’s a role all of us have some control over. We might not yet know exactly why two children died on our streets, but let their deaths raise this question for all drivers: Can we drive as if lives depended on it?"
"Early-20th-century college administrators saw residence halls, the concrete-block structures that have become part of college lore, as great levelers, according to Yanni. The University of Wisconsin, for example, sold its dorms as places where 'the son of the banker and the farmer’s boy will find fraternity near the crackling fire.' The purpose was to mix members of different economic classes."
This is no longer the case - with dwindling state funding, colleges are bending over backwards to add amenities that attract wealthy US and foreign students, and have partnered with development companies to bring more luxury apartment-style units near their campuses.
On the other hand, a growing share of students (8% more from 1996 to 2016) come from families in poverty, due to deliberate public policy and university admissions choices.
"But this wave of new housing doesn’t address the lack of affordable living options for low-income students. It’s a challenge analogous to providing low-income housing in general; it’s a difficult market to make the numbers work. And many traditional tools for helping provide low-income housing don’t apply to students. For instance, full-time students aren’t eligible for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, and housing authorities by law are allowed to de-prioritize full-time students."
Interested in getting between Lincoln and Omaha without a car? Show your support at a public meeting or take an online survey expressing your view. The Lincoln meeting will be held September 5th, so don't delay in getting this on your calendar.
Container houses are going up on 28th & Vine in Lincoln as future rental housing, and more are going up now near 8th & H. The latter won't be regular rentals though; instead they are being purpose-built as short-term rentals, AKA AirBnB listings.
Studies have found that the rise of AirBnB is taking rental housing off the market, further tightening supply and raising housing costs for residents, along with a host of other issues that affect the labor market and tax receipts.
Omaha city council approves budget funding an additional housing inspector; position may not be filled this year
The Omaha city council thinks an additional housing inspector is needed to help deal with a glut of unsafe housing conditions and increased the budget for housing inspectors accordingly; Mayor Stothert disagrees.
"While voting for the amendment, Melton said that approving the position doesn’t mean it will actually be implemented, so it should be up to City Planning Director David Fanslau to fill the position only if he believes it is needed.
Fanslau didn’t say he would or wouldn’t, but [Omaha mayor] Stothert has made clear she doesn’t believe another inspector is needed next year. Fanslau told the council that he had determined he would need five new inspectors by 2022, and he plans to hire five new inspectors by 2022."
"The park is an environment where a range of sensory input is available but is not overwhelming; it’s something children with sensory disorders can manage on their own. My son’s unusual movement, his noise, his yelping, all can be as loud or as wild or as strange as he’d like. My son is rarely the spectacle he would be in other spaces, even playgrounds. The openness of this mixed-use space simply surrounds us."
Mona, an administrative staff member at Bike Walk Nebraska, sees herself among the 60% of American cyclists who are "interested, but concerned" with biking. Mona appreciates the trail system in Omaha, but feels nervous about getting from her home to the trails.
"I REALLY, REALLY want to be enthused and confident about riding on Omaha’s streets, but the path forward seems elusive. Julie tells me her confidence came with experience. Great, but how am I supposed to get experience when fear prevents me from cycling on the streets in the first place?"
"I could really build my confidence with a protected bike lane or trail. I would ride to work, to the store, to the library, out for coffee...oh, I could go on and on. But, alas, I don’t live in Hickman. Or Lincoln, which has the only true protected bike lane in Nebraska. So, until Omaha commits to a different way of doing things, I guess I’ll continue to be a part of that 60% group and stay on the trails for now."
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