Housing and Community

South O Development and the Lack of Transparency by the City – AGAIN

The Intersections development by Community Health Development Partners (CHDP), proposed to take place in South Omaha, NE, needs to be looked at more critically to ensure we are doing what is best for the community. Upon watching this unfold, changes need to be made to Nebraska Development Law that reenforces community input and protects people. I have family that live in this area, and I grew up around here – I can get behind development that benefits the community, but this is not what I am seeing.  

On November 24, 2021, it was made public for the first time CHDP would look to develop the area of 28th and Martha. From various conversations, it appeared not many people knew about this development. Most people who live adjacent to the site were never invited to any community meeting or given the opportunity to meet the developer before the press release. So, my initial question was: “Who is this and who is involved?”

Community Health Development Partners is a company based out of Missouri. Their incorporation date is August 28, 2020. They have a partner non-profit, Community Health Development Foundation, based out of Oregon, created about a month prior on June 23, 2020, designated as a non-profit corporation. CHDP has opened up branches in a few other states. They opened a branch in Nebraska on November 24, 2021 – the same day the Omaha World Herald Article was published. 

I wanted to speak to someone from this development, and it took about two weeks after the article was published to finally get a hold of someone. On December 7th, a member of Community Health Development Partners finally reached out to me, this was a day after I submitted my public records request to the City of Omaha. I spoke to Joel Cota, who worked for Mayor Jean Stothert’s office from 2013-2018. He now works for Community Health Development Partners. My main concern was housing – I will cover this conversation later in the editorial. 

I learned from my public records request, CHDP was introduced to the TIF Department in City Planning by Kevin Andersen on September 13, 2021. Kevin Andersen works as Deputy Chief of Staff in the Mayor’s Office. He stated he had been working with the group, CHDP. The time frame of how long he has been working with them is unknown. I also reached out to Omaha Chamber to see if they had any information on this development – they said this was not one of their projects. So, City Planning was aware of this development about two months before the press release, the Mayor’s Chief of Staff longer, while many people in the community did not know about it at all. 

There is industrial vacant land in this area that totals 20.7 acres. I believe most people assumed this development would take place on that vacant industrial land. Which sounds nice, it sounds great. However, my focus narrowed in on the fact they were buying properties. There was not much information about this put out into the public. This sparked my concern for housing, as well as my own investigation.

As I interviewed people, I learned CHDP held a meeting on October 18, 2021. At this time, there was no information about the development made public. The meeting was to get people to sell their homes and properties along 28th Avenue. A total of six homes sold, two have not sold. They also bought a business on the East side of the homes. This was their “Phase 1.” They have a “Phase 2” which targets the 27th Avenue neighborhood. In a community meeting with CHDP on December 13, 2021, held per community request, they confirmed there is a Phase 2 and stated they would speak to the community if they got to this phase – which was dishonest.

Community Health Development Partners bought a home in the 27th Avenue neighborhood on December 28, 2021. This home was set to go on sale to the general public, it had a real estate sign that said, “Coming Soon.” According to Douglas County Assessor, CHDP bought the home. This home is located on the complete opposite side of CHDP’s development site location. This means they began “Phase 2” without speaking to members of this community. 

When I spoke to Joel Cota on December 7th, I directly asked why The Intersections development could not just use the vacant space available for their campus instead of targeting homes. My question was not directly answered, except that they need the space for the campus. I voiced concern that if this is taking homes, then it’s too big. This was before I knew about Phase 2. The impression I received is that CHDP has no intention of adjusting their plans. I also asked for their plans, he said he could not send those to me.

Community Health Development Partners plan to use TIF funding for their development. It was stated in the December 13th meeting, they need the CRA designation. A blight study was conducted for this area, but not by request of CHDP, this was by request of a separate housing development to take place on the North side of Martha Street. The housing development will provide various rental units, and use vacant buildings, vacant space only. The blight study request was submitted in August of 2021. The request asked that the study encompass only as far South as Martha Street from the North side, however the blight boundary was drawn to include more area – which included CHDP’s development. 

The housing development organized a meeting with City Planning to go over their development and the blight study as well as designation. CHDP was added to this meeting. I passed out flyers to the 27th Avenue neighborhood to ensure people knew about the meeting. While passing these out, I met someone who had no idea about CHDP’s development still up to this point.  

The blight meeting took place on January 19, 2022. Both developments presented. CHDP did not provide a presentation, someone stood up from their chair and said they didn’t have much – they are in the beginning stages. Multiple questions and concerns followed, of which included homeowners worried about being pushed out due to the buying of homes.

The lack of information, the lack of communication with the community, the narrative that they don’t have much information while there is a room full of concerned community members because they are buying homes, and no one knows what is going on – is something my mind struggles to grasp. This is unacceptable, this is an injustice to community members. Where is the transparency? And they plan to use taxpayer funding? I also learned from my public records request, CHDP asked City Planning about other government incentives, “(CDBG, CARES Act, etcetra…).” So, they plan to use other government incentives from taxpayers as well? Where is the accountability?

Community Health Development Partners has yet to hold a community meeting by their own initiative. The first community meeting in December was requested by me. The January 19th meeting was organized by a separate development. It was stated in the January 19th meeting, CHDP would hold another community meeting soon. I reached out through email to ask when their next meeting is – the response, they could meet with me individually to discuss any concerns. I responded and emphasized that it was clear at the meeting there are concerns by multiple individuals in the community, it is not only me. I also directly asked how CHDP is processing these concerns, and if they are considering maintaining the neighborhood? Their response did not answer my questions and accused me of hearsay for referencing there were multiple concerns without providing names. The news organization KETV was present and recorded the whole meeting.

Throughout this, as I have tried to raise concern to City Planning that CHDP has not been communicating with the community, I was reminded multiple times, City is following state statute. The only requirement to inform communities about a blight designation and development is going through the neighborhood associations. They don’t have to contact individuals that live in the area. I was reminded multiple times there is no requirement for a community meeting, although highly encouraged by the planning department. So essentially, there is no requirement to inform individual people within communities about what may happen in their own communities. Yet the City of Omaha can work with developments, out of state companies, for months about what to do in a community – without community input from its CONCEPTION. This process should begin with community, and there should be more protections for people from big developments.  

Community Health Development Partners needs accountability.

Continually I have been reminded of the business side – and continually I remind people of the human aspect. They say they aren’t forcing anyone to sell, but building around people is a way of pushing people out that did not want to initially move. Approaching people to sell while there is no information about this anywhere puts people in a compromising situation. My focus has always been on people that don’t want to be forced or pushed out. I also question why housing is being targeted in the first place if this development is truely about community. I don’t trust that eminent domain is off the table. Eminent domain is initiated by the Mayor, and this development company has been working with the Mayor’s Chief of Staff. When inquiring with Mayor Jean Stothert, she insisted the city will not use eminent domain, and that property acquisition is the responsibility of the private development.

Currently, CHDP has around 24 acres of land to develop. For comparison, the Kroc Center in South Omaha is 15.4 acres, Omaha South’s Collin Field is 8.5 Acres. Why not use the space instead of displacing an entire community? If they take all of the 27th Avenue neighborhood, they will have around 30 acres or so of land total. Should they be successful in both Phase 1 and 2 regarding housing, they will have demolished over 50 livable and affordable homes in South Omaha. All of this – without extensive, if any, feedback from the community and very little information made public about what it is they are building. 

I field some tough questions as I attempt to advocate, but no one is asking this development tough questions and holding them accountable. 

This is community development? That is not what I see.