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A small group of Norfolkans came together Monday night to discuss the city’s housing needs as part of an ongoing study.

Keith Carl, a community planner with Hanna:Keelan Associates, led the discussion by sharing the preliminary results of a county-wide housing needs survey that was conducted earlier this spring.

A total of 410 surveys were received, which Carl said was a relatively good response rate. There were two surveys — a general housing needs survey and a similar housing survey aimed at workers and how their job and housing needs correlate.

About two-thirds of the respondents were single family homeowners, while about a third were renters of both houses and apartments. A small number were owners of acreages, lived in duplexes, townhomes and mobile homes or chose not to specify.

Carl said the main concern for both homeowners and renters was overwhelmingly centered on cost and availability.

“Many first-time home buyers find that homes are either too expensive or are in need of substantial rehabilitation,” Carl said.

Several people at Monday’s discussion pointed out that there is a relatively straightforward problem with Norfolk’s housing market: the costs of building and owning a home are high, and continuing to climb, but wages are generally low and stagnant.

Martin Griffith, a housing specialist with the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District, said that a couple working for a beginning wage at a manufacturing plant in Norfolk could not afford a mortgage payment on a $250,000 house.

“We’ve already exceeded where the bubble burst in 2008 with the housing crisis, so that tells us how quickly those housing prices have gone up,” Carl said.

Kathleen Means of RE/MAX said many new homebuyers don’t understand the realities of buying a home because the types of homes they can afford aren’t like the ones they grew up in.

“Their homes aren’t like their parents, who had to start low and work their way up, or they lived in a new apartment when they were in college,” Means said. “They want a certain house for a certain price and it’s just not possible.”

Means said it would be beneficial if there was more education for first-time buyers to realize what they can afford and what the responsibilities of owning a home are.

One problem the survey showed was that most respondents said they could only afford a home for $100,000 to $175,000, but Carl said it’s nearly impossible to build a new home for that cost due to the cost of land, construction, taxes and other expenses.

The prices for the rental market are also a problem, several people said.

Griffith said it’s possible to pay for a modern apartment in Omaha and Lincoln with amenities and access to higher-paying jobs — and many of them are cheaper than apartments in Norfolk.

New rental complexes being built will add to the market, he said, but the prices there will still be too high for many renters.

Some potential solutions to the housing problems in Norfolk, Carl said, are forming public and private partnerships and finding ways to develop housing affordable for more people.

Carl said a key point to understand is that the need for affordable housing doesn’t necessarily mean solely low-income housing.

“Affordable is when people purchase their home that they don’t become cost burdened,” Carl said.

The threshold between affordable and burdening when it comes to housing is typically 30 percent of a family’s income. If there’s a need for more middle-class homes, for example, the study will indicate that.

Carl said the study is looking to find what people are looking to pay and what they can afford in the community.

He didn’t give an estimation as to when the study will be completed, but said the discussion Monday night was an important step. Two simultaneous housing study meetings were also held in Madison and Battle Creek.

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