Nebraska Bill Would Create Disaster Housing Fund

By Michael Avok | February 28, 2012

Nebraska needs to create a temporary housing fund to help people who lose their homes to flooding, tornadoes and other natural disasters, a state lawmaker said on Feb. 23.

Sen. Lydia Brasch, of Bancroft, said the state was unprepared last spring when people lost their homes to Missouri River flooding.

She said state and federal government aid programs move too slowly, and Nebraska should create a $2.5 million fund to help with immediate needs when people are forced from their homes.

Legislative Bill 1110, as debated in the Health and Human Services Committee, would shift $2.5 million from existing money in the state’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the Homeless Shelter Assistance Trust Fund.

The money would be used to help people pay for rent and utilities right away when they need it, Brasch said, thus avoiding the wait for other disaster aid programs.

“I believe Nebraska has the responsibility to be prepared for the housing needs of our citizens following a natural disaster,” she said. “This fund may not be enough, but at least we are doing something.”

Brasch said many displaced homeowners in her area eventually received funding help, but many needed aid right away. Some people found shelter with friends and relatives, but others were forced to live in empty college dormitories in Blair for months.

She said while the dormitory solution worked for a while, it was an inconvenience for families with young children. She said there were apartments and other suitable places to live if people would have had access to emergency funds to pay for rent deposits and utility hookups.

Danielle Hill, executive director of the Nebraska Housing Developers Association, testified against the bill.

She said current programs offer effective aid and she doubted whether creating another government fund would speed up the process.

“Chronologically, this would not be a first response,” Hill said. “It’s a government program. It doesn’t solve an immediate issue. It’s not going to be any faster.”

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