Workshop #10
April 30-May 1, 2009

Housing can be a driving factor in economic development, participants in the 10th Nebraska Sustainability Leadership Workshop learned. Both the removal of blighted buildings as well as the development of affordable housing can create jobs, engage a young workforce, improve the community, and can provide a model for creating net-energy-generating buildings within a community, they concluded. And all of that can help drive a more sustainable community and a more sustainable public policy, making a more inviting space for smart, strong leadership within a community.

Leaders from Randolph, Norfolk, Neligh, Laurel, and Wakefield who attended the workshop on April 30 and May 1 in Norfolk learned that "housing IS economic development," according to Danielle Hill, Executive Director of the Nebraska Housing Developers Association. "Housing increases the tax base, it creates jobs, it builds a community from the grassroots," said Hill.

Anne Thietje-Pantoja, Community Planner with the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District, agreed. Housing, she said, is a critical component of economic development.

And, it is not only the construction of housing and commercial buildings that can drive economic development, said W. Cecil Steward, CEO and President of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, sponsor of the workshops, but also deconstruction. Deconstruction, he explained, is taking apart old structures in reverse order of how they were built, saving those building materials and architectural elements that can be saved and recycling them. He talked about the program he started in Lincoln, teaching students to deconstruct buildings, then selling the recycled materials in a used building materials store, EcoStores, he founded in Lincoln.

So deconstruction can bring young people into the workforce, train them in new "green" jobs, open a new business (recycled building materials), use some architectural elements to rehab historic buildings in town, save money in demolition and landfill costs, and open land for new construction or other development, which creates even more jobs and broadens the tax base, Steward said. With so much blighted housing and commercial structures in towns across Nebraska, it's a great opportunity for communities seeking to grow in a sustainable way.

Thietje-Pantoja said her office has well over 300 applications from towns in Northeast Nebraska alone, seeking money for demolition of buildings. And, she said, it's not just demolition that is very expensive, but landfill fees as well. Tearing down one house can cost between $1,000 and $2,000, and landfill costs are high for building materials—in excess of $1,200.

"Demolishing housing is the #1 priority statewide," agreed Danielle Hill, "and then what do you do with the materials and how do you get funding? Deconstruction is a great concept. It could help drive policy within a community, which could help drive policy on the state level. Communities need to learn that they don't have to try to attract manufacturing to grow. Housing can be the catalyst. It's grassroots initiatives like this that are incredibly effective in driving economic development and public policy."

Retrofitting housing and buildings for the disabled can be another source of jobs in a community, and there are funds available for such endeavors, Hill said. And every community in Nebraska needs more good, affordable housing, she said.

"Sometimes affordable housing is seen as the housing that is used by people who may not be stable, permanent residents," said Jason Schindler of Neligh.

But if you have a stable, attractive, sustainable community with good affordable housing, countered Steward, the chances of such transient populations are diminished. "Affordable housing is where the good jobs live—the police, waitresses, teachers, road workers, clerks—these are the backbone of any community, and these people need good housing they can afford," Steward said. "There is no affordable housing, unless a community creates it."

Building political will for such programs can enhance leadership, and also is an opportunity to build partnerships with like-minded organizations in the area, building community-wide participation and pride.

"We too often let the budget drive our projects, instead of the other way around," said Norfolk City Administrator Al Roder. "The challenge is building consensus for programs." Annette Junck, Economic Development Coordinator for Laurel, agreed, "Getting people there is part of the problem. There is a lack of public engagement in planning and visioning."

Steward suggested that partnering with other groups in the area—colleges, schools, civic organizations, even grassroots groups—can help city leaders build sustainable planning and policy and help them build consensus.

"Partnerships add credibility to projects," agreed Roder.

"Regional partnerships are a great way to strengthen and build benefits," said Anita Hall, UNL Extension Educator in Antelope County. "Regionalism as a concept is growing all the time for us now. And I'm very proud of Northeast Nebraska, from the Missouri River to the Sandhills. We are doing good things, the best we can, with shared concerns, solutions, and vision. We need each other.

"While we're embracing regionalism," Hall said, "we are still promoting local virtues, maintaining a balance and sense of local communities. Some of our small towns are so vibrant, so alive. We need to concentrate on what we are doing right. Why does it have to be economic development? Why can't we concentrate on what we are doing right and enhance that, especially taking into consideration the Five Domains?" The Five Domains of Sustainability, developed by Cecil Steward, are Technology, Public Policy, Environment, Economics, and Socio-Cultural. To be sustainable, planning and development must be balanced among the five.

Exactly right, said Mary Ferdig, president of the Sustainability Leadership Institute and facilitator of the workshop. "What do we have we want to sustain?"

"You have to have the old and the new, working together," said Roder.

"Neligh has a great health care system, a Norman Rockwell-like Fourth of July celebration, our historic Neligh Mills, our Bread and Jam Festival, among many other things that make our community distinct and a great place," said Kate Ostenrude, Neligh librarian.

"But there are some desired, shared human values that transcend events and institutions," said Steward. And Dale Wilkinson, Neligh City Councilman and Vice President of the Antelope County Resource Center agreed: "Doing something for the communtiy. Doing something larger than oneself," he said.

Jason Schindler, secretary of the Neligh Young Men's Club, concurred. "The integrity of a town and its leaders can only enhance a community. It's important for leadership to reconnect with core human values, reconnect generations, reconnect leadership with the grassroots, create and build on a common, shared vision."

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Resources from the
Norfolk Workshop

Most of the workshop materials can be downloaded from our Resources and Documents pages. Below are some materials specifically from the consultants and speakers at the Norfolk workshop, as well as some who were not there.

Below, you can download the presentations from two expert consultants who attended the Norfolk workshop.

Mike Heavrin, Cooperative Marketing Manager from the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, gave a terrific presentation on the importance of community food systems in Nebraska's communities, and how they can be a critical source of economic development, developing sustainable food production, processing, distribution and consumption all in one area, creating jobs and keeping money recirculating within a community, and encouraging young people to return to the community. He also discussed the new Value Added Producer Development Grant program. You can download his PowerPoint presentation by clicking here. You can get in touch with Mike by e-mailing him at, or visit the website:

Energy: How Our Future Will Look Different and What We Can Do About It, PowerPoint presentation by Daniel Lawse, Energy Outreach Associate for the Neighborhood Center, a UNO-based organization which provides information and assistance to neighborhood associations to enable them to come together and develop their own leadership and decision-making structure and effectively address the issues affecting the quality of life in their communities. Daniel's presentation sparked a lively dialogue about alternative energy and how important energy efficiency is to the health of a community.

Click here to link to a video of W. Cecil Steward's presentation on The Five Domains of Sustainability and the EcoSTEP™ tool for measuring sustainability.

Many participants were interested in affordable housing and blighted housing issues. Danielle Hill is Executive Director of the Nebraska Housing Developers Association in Lincoln, a non-profit dedicated to addressing housing for the disabled and handicapped and affordable housing, policy, and planning, among other initiatives. The association is available to work with communities. You can visit their website for more information:

Anne Thietje-Pantoja, Community Planner for the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District, helps communities in a 20-county regional area with comprehensive plans, housing studies, grant writing, strategic planning, new construction, and gap financing for new businesses, among other initiatives. Visit their website:

Steve Peregrine, Deputy Director for Community Investment at the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, provided these contacts for participants:

Community and Rural Development Division
Nebraska Department of Economic Development
Lara Huskey, Director
Paula Rhian, Housing Coordinator

Nebraska Investment Finance Authority
Steve Peregrine, Deputy Director
Community Investments
Jackie Young, Manager
Single Family Program

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