As we talked about what issues we wanted to focus on as a campaign, we had to first think about our values -- my values, for our city. When I think about the values I want Omaha to embody I have to think about who the people are that live in and around the community. Of course like many, the first folks that come to mind are my family members.
Meet Tim (he/him), my younger brother. Tim is a 31 year old single father who co-parents his sons with their mothers. Tim is a driver for a delivery company, because he just can't imagine himself staying still long enough to work in an office. Tim works sometimes 10 hour days to ensure that the Omaha and surrounding communities get the packages and deliveries that are keeping our families going during this pandemic. Tim is an essential worker.
Recently, my brother lived with my mother in order to save money to afford his own place to rent. Tim has gone through various periods of unemployment which have left him financially unstable at times. We are lucky that our mother is a homeowner and thus able to provide stable housing for us when needed. At some point in time every one of my siblings (and me) have lived in that house while we were in between jobs or living situations.
I share all of this to point out that the issue of Equitable Housing for me isn't just an idea, it is a personal mission.
In answering this calling to run for office, I did a lot of reflection on what is important to me, what I love about this city and what makes me frustrated. I also started talking to others in the community and asking them the same questions. Over and over again the issue of quality affordable housing kept coming up and it became clear to me this must be an issue in which I speak out. When we set the value of Equity for our campaign it was about seeking ways to promote equity in every facet of our city, but especially in our Housing and Development. This was a huge no brainier for me and the team, however, I didn't realize the reality of the issues individuals in housing in Omaha was so close to home.
As I said, recently my brother Tim moved in to a new rental home. He had been looking for months for a place that met 3 basic needs: Large enough for him and his two sons, dog friendly for their rescue dog (Kiba), and within his budget. As a person making a modest, but above the poverty line, wage in the state of Nebraska cost is crucial. There was one house that Tim and my mother found which he really liked. They of course were not the only people looking at the home that day. They were told by the management company he had to first fill out an application before he could submit a deposit. They rushed back to my mother's home and quickly filled out the rental application and sent it in that night. Two days later they got a call that someone else already put in a deposit and they missed out. On this day time was not on his side. This experience forced Tim to realize that if he wanted to find a place that met his needs (which the options were very few) he needed to jump on an opening quickly. Therefore, the next house that met his 3 requirements, that he came across he took it immediately. After just one walk through and a quick scan of the neighborhood he said yes and then moved in a week later. I was able to visit the house for the first time. Having worked with Habitat Omaha's Home Repair program for a year, I learned a little bit about Codes and Housing structures. Instantly walking up to the home I saw a few safety issues in regards to the retaining wall, steps and driveway. But I thought, well you know, outside maintenance is tough so maybe it is really taken care of inside.
Once inside, I was a little more relieved as while the house is small, there was new carpet, new countertops and flooring in the kitchen, updates to the bathroom and decent closet space. Things were looking up! However, I noticed that he had to make one of the 3 bedrooms into a playroom as the size wasn't really conducive to a bed larger than a crib and while his 6 year old is small, he CERTAINLY isn't sleeping in a crib! I inquired about where Tim was going to sleep since he pointed out to me the other 2 bedrooms would be for his sons. He told me he would be in the basement and tells me to come check it out.
As I walk down the stairs I am instantly taken a back by the smell of must. There was clearly water damage in that basement. Though one could not visually tell, because there was a very fresh paint job on all of the walls. However, the area where the washer and dryer are to be placed has serious concrete rot happening and signs of foundation deterioration. Tim takes me to the space which will be his bedroom. He proudly explains how he has carpet that he is going to put on the floor and that he is going to dust and wash the walls and windows. I really wanted to be as enthused about the space as he was, but all that I could focus on is Tim and his 3 sons all have asthma or some sort of respiratory issue. This makeshift bedroom (with little ventilation) is adjacent to a built in garage, in a potentially water damaged basement, in a house with no central air, and water spots on the ceiling.
My brother and mother don't have a strong sense of smell, so when they first looked at the house they didn't notice the odor and didn't think to ask about potential or previous flooding. They were drawn in by the cosmetic updates upstairs and didn't notice the patchwork repair on the ceiling of the garage (which sits directly under the living room). And on top of these physical concerns, upon trying to set up his internet and cable they received notice that the service was out in that neighborhood. Which means his youngest son can't access his homework for school while in the house.
This is their home. I am glad that they are fortunate enough to have a roof over their heads as there are thousands in our community who do not have a stable place to live. However, I have to wonder at what cost to their health will they have to pay. Why did he have to compromise so much to attain the basic human need of shelter, when he really didn't ask for much to begin with?
My brother's story is just one of many in our community for people like him, who due to financial restrictions, have to choose between affordability or quality. This should not be the choice Omahans have to make! Every home in this city (whether rental or owned) should be decent, safe AND affordable regardless of your economic status or family structure. It is my hope to continue to shine a light on this issue. I know too many renters in our city live in fear of exposing the inequities in our housing stock for those who make $60,000 a year or less (which is according, to ACS, the average salary for White households in Omaha). This reality is a consequence of us settling for the "Good Life," however I hope to challenge us to move beyond just the good, but move toward Thriving.
We can and deserve to have an Omaha in which EVERYONE can live here and thrive here. Thriving is more than just getting by; it is about succeeding and experiencing the quality of life we all deserve. Together, we can do this; we must do this. Remember...We Don't Coast!