Brennan sworn in, however housing is the main target of Omaha Metropolis Council

Colleen Brennan walked outside the half-filled legislative chambers, with members of the Omaha City Council behind their desks.

Dressed in a floral face mask, she swore to abide by the law and fulfill her duty as a newly appointed member of District 5 in southwest Omaha.

“I just want to thank everyone for their support, it’s a great honor,” Brennan said after taking her place. “And I look forward to working with everyone and solving any problems that arise. And I am just very grateful for this wonderful opportunity to serve our great city. “

The final step in confirming Brennan came after weeks of controversy and recent questions about the legality of her appointment on December 22nd. However, blog posts did not discuss the sides of a conversation between whites and blacks, issues with the transparency of the appointment process, and whether outgoing councilor Rich Pahls had the opportunity to vote for his predecessor was not discussed on Tuesday evening. Instead, council members agreed that the best thing to do is just move forward.

“If I had looked at the blog, I would still have voted her,” said District 2 Councilor Ben Gray, who said he chose Brennan because of her legislative experience and her ability to represent a female voice on the council. “The blog has been taken out of context.”

Gray said stories on her blog were “racing bait”. But if people want to have a conversation about how to make the selection process more transparent, which in the past has involved public interviews with candidates, he is ready to have that conversation.

Brennan said again that her blog posts were not her opinion. They were thoughts she heard from others that might help people better understand institutional racism.

“I just want to start a conversation so we can solve problems and come together as a community,” she said.

The city council meeting on Tuesday evening focused on zoning and a debate about what kind of development would best fit the city’s growth.

Sophia Smith lives in one of two tri-plexes near 33rd and Jones Streets, southwest of Dewey Park. Their home is slated to be demolished to make way for a 55-apartment complex being built by developer Greenslate for $ 10 million. Of that, $ 1.4 million will come from the city in the form of tax hike funding after the Omaha City Council gave the project a green light with a unanimous vote over Smith’s objections.

On behalf of the project, Brent Beller, a Greenslate attorney, argued. He said the project is the type the city needs to keep expanding its urban core. As a transit-oriented development, it has limited parking facilities. Instead, it prioritizes principles that prefer to travel by bus or on foot. While Greenslate is demolishing two complexes built in the 1930s, Greenslate, which has developed and bought properties across Midtown in recent years, envisions monochromatic Tudor-style facades to blend in with the neighborhood’s existing architecture.

One of the goals was to build something that could be orientated in the neighborhood. Greenslate opted for a Tudor-style facade that matches the architecture in the area. pic.twitter.com/jAOcM58wmj

– Chris Bowling (@ChrisMBowling) January 12, 2021

Everything fits into the city’s master plan to build more high-density housing, said Beller and representatives from the Omaha City Planning Department, and will go a long way to serve a growing central Omaha.

But Smith said it does just the opposite for people like her.

“Greenslate likes to push the idea that they’re one of the reasons Midtown is a booming place to live, but that’s just not true,” she said. “It’s us, the lower-income working class people who have lived here and built these communities that make it a place people want to live. And Greenslate has proven time and again that they don’t have our best interests in mind by continually planning and eliminating housing that is affordable to us. “

Beller admitted it comes at a cost such as evicting people like Smith, but said Greenslate is not trying to “praise” existing neighbors like Smith, and many have blamed them.

“We really don’t have a definition of what is affordable,” he said. “We have market prices and we have low-income housing … we think this is affordable because we look at market prices and … $ 950 per month is the median, the average, that housing payers are paying.”

According to Beller, apartments at the Dewey Apartments Complex will range from $ 850 to $ 1,100 per month, including studios and multi-bedroom units. He said that this will actually be an improvement over the existing Tri-Plexes, which cost $ 1,200 a month.

Smith corrected him that their rent is actually $ 900 a month and that those rents will not be affordable for many of the workers who live in these neighborhoods.

The council members agreed that these projects are necessary to increase and update the housing stock. Council Chairman Jerram, District 3, said a voter asked him if some units in this complex were earmarked for low-income housing, but he understood the finances and logistics of this project would not allow it.

Councilor Pete Festersen said he and other members of the city’s planning committee are looking at ways to increase the inventory of really affordable, good quality housing in the city. The city is approximately 80,000 units from where it needs to be.

In some cities, a certain part of the tax hike funding is earmarked for low-income housing projects, which should be taken into account here. Festersen, District 1, said the planning committee has asked the city’s legal department to analyze whether this may be necessary or at least incentivize low-income housing construction.

“The planning committee is very attuned to this issue and we work on it every month. I think we all agree that this is a big problem in our city,” said Festersen. “There’s no doubt about that.”

But the time to draw that line in the sand wasn’t in the discussion of these new homes, said Councilor Brinker Harding, District 6. A 55-apartment complex is a drop in the bucket of the general discussion about living in Omaha, he said. And even if you just work through this project, you still have to lift a lot.

“Even if all 55 units had to be low-income or missing middle-income housing, 55 out of 80,000, it highlights or illustrates the challenge we face in seeing through this,” he said. “How can we deliver more of this home product?”

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