The Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted last Tuesday, July 14th, to finalize a plan that allocates $10 million of the $166 million of Douglas County’s CARES Act funds for rental assistance. Influential in this decision was the engagement of leaders from Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) who met with many of the Commissioners to discuss the imminent threat of COVID-19 related evictions and how CARES Act funds could help keep impacted families in their homes.

OTOC leaders conducted research and found that previous to the COVID-19 pandemic, a startling 47% of renters in Douglas County were rent-burdened, meaning that they spend over 30% of their monthly income on rent. With 46,557 new initial claims for unemployment in Douglas County filed between 3/21-6/13, OTOC says it’s likely there are more rent burdened residents than ever. Further, a new report on evictions in Omaha clearly demonstrates how minority and low-income neighborhoods in North and South Omaha are hotspots both for COVID-19 infections and for evictions.

Amidst a pandemic it is easy to recognize that housing is a serious public health issue. Eviction court has been open since the moratorium issued by Governor Ricketts on evictions expired at the end of May, and even federally-funded housing projects will become vulnerable again at the end of July.

OTOC leader and member of Augustana Lutheran Church, Gloria Austerberry, said, “OTOC has been working with the County Commissioners to develop a rental assistance program for those who have been hit especially hard during this pandemic. Under normal circumstances, evictions are detrimental for families. In the context of the pandemic, evictions hurt the whole community by removing the ability to practice social isolation safely in their homes. Preventing them whenever possible protects children especially, and all the institutions like education, social services, and health care that serve them. We are pleased that the Commissioners have prioritized keeping people in their homes and are doing their part to keep our County healthy and safe.”

OTOC said that many of the Commissioners were open to increasing the funding for the rental assistance program, including Chair of the Board Commissioner Duda, who said, “We could potentially increase the funding the funding for rental assistance if we feel it’s necessary.” OTOC’s research says it could take $35 million to meet the need in Douglas County. The county’s website is live now, and the application will open on Monday, July 27th. Eligibility guidelines and instructions are available online, and there are several organizations available to assist people with the application. Those organizations include:

  • East African Development Association of Nebraska, (402) 708-4106
  • Heart Ministry Center, (402) 681-1321
  • Latino Center for the Midlands, (402) 733-2720
  • Open Door Mission, (402) 829-1545
  • Omaha Public Schools – Early Childhood Development, (531) 299-9146
  • Siena Francis House, (402) 341-1821
  • Together Omaha, (402) 345-8046 ext 205