CALLAWAY—Without proper housing, small towns are sure to shrink or even disappear. This was one of the prominent topics discussed during Thursday afternoon’s Rural Workforce Housing Development Options meeting held in Callaway.
Local development leaders Justin Mason, Ken Pitkin, and Andrew Ambriz joined Custer County Extension Educator Shawn Kaskie (with the University of Nebraska’s Community Vitality Initiative) and the Nebraska Development Network (Central Region) in a panel discussion highlighting the importance of housing development.
Justin Mason, local builder of single family affordable homes, told the crowd of nearly 20 individuals that people are searching in high demand for housing. He says he receives frequent phone calls of people asking about available housing. When a plan for a new house comes out, he said the project is usually sold before a hole is even dug.
Custer Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Andrew Ambriz said that in order to attract employees to central Nebraska, there needs to be housing options that can accommodate workers and families through various stages of life.
“If we’re going to supply people with paychecks to live and enjoy the place that they work, [then] they’ve got to have a safe, sound, decent place to live–raise a family. Something that accommodates their needs,” Ambriz said.
The panelists came to the conclusion that many existing houses lack energy efficiency and require continued upkeep. Mason, Pitkin, and Ambriz added that people need places they can afford to live, relax, and raise their families.
When looking at long-term value, housing developments and the people who inhibit them provide numerous tax benefits to their communities via property taxes, electricity costs, trash removal, etc.
According to Thursday’s panelists, a common barrier many communities face is the initial cost of infrastructure such as roads and sewer lines. However, if village and city boards contribute to the infrastructure development, doors are open for potential housing projects, growth of communities, and therefore long-term financial gain.
“If a community makes it [infrastructure] available, there is a need for it [housing] and people are looking for it,” Mason said.
Ken Pitkin added that he is encouraged by young people returning to places like Callaway to do business and he hopes civic leaders, contractors, and residents remember that housing expansion is not a quick fix, but a process that includes numerous ways to strengthen the place we call home.
“They’re either going to grow or they’re going to disappear,” Mason said regarding Nebraska’s small towns. “It’s not rocket science, it’s just persistence. Finding a way, continuing with the process,” Pitkin added.