Nebraska housing program helps rural workers


    WAKEFIELD, Neb. (AP) — A couple in northeast Nebraska is the first to find housing through the state's rural housing program, which aims to help rural communities increase housing opportunities to better retain workers.

    The state's $7 million Rural Workforce Housing Fund gives nonprofit development organizations matching grants to construct or rehabilitate housing in rural parts of the state, The Sioux City Journal reported.

    The goal is to create housing options for middle-income workers who don't qualify for other housing assistance programs but don't have enough for a down payment.

    Adrian and Maria Ruiz were renting a home in Emerson as they struggled to find housing eight miles away in Wakefield, where Adrian Ruiz works. The couple was finally able to purchase a $185,000 home in Wakefield after receiving a no-interest loan through the program, which helped them afford the down payment needed for the three-bedroom home.

    "It's just a great feeling now being part of the community of Wakefield," Adrian Ruiz said. "Now maybe we can give something back."

    Officials in Wakefield and nearby Wayne said the area lacks homes in the $80,000 to $150,000 range. Many workers have to commute from other cities, which makes it difficult for employers to retain workers.

    "We've had employers tell us that the retention rate would be higher if there was more housing here," said Megan Weaver, executive director of the Wayne Community Housing Development Corporation, which applied for the housing grant and administers it. "In these small communities, if you don't have some kind of incentive for people to live here, they're going to go live somewhere else."

    The two cities have raised $750,000 in local matching funds for the housing program. Three other homes are planned to be built in Wakefield, along with four rehabilitation projects. A triplex has been constructed in Wayne, and two single-family homes are being planned.

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