In advance of a vote that may occur as early as April 2nd, OTOC and the Apartment Owners Association of Nebraska (AAN) intered into negotiation about areas of agreement to jointly present to the City Council and Mayor. The AAN represents the owners of half the rental properties in Omaha.
The invitation to negotiate occurred after 40 tenants, landlords, community organizations, social service organizations, pastors organized by OTOC spoke in favor of reform at a four-hour city council hearing on March 12 (in photo above). OTOC leaders Karen McElroy, Rosie Volkmer, Gloria Austerberry, Dennis Walsh, Susan Kuhlman and Paul Romero laid out a comprehensive narrative that covered the history of substandard property rentals in the city, the failures of the current complaint-based system and the extensive research in support of rental inspection programs. At the request of City Council members, OTOC submitted recommendations of what ought to be amendments to the Mayor's proposed ordinance.
OTOC leaders urge supporters to continue to pressure their elected representatives to support a system of landlord registration with proactive inspections to ensure that all people have access to healthy homes.
After 500 tenants were forced out of their homes due to residential code violations by their landlords, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) leaders launched a campaign to ensure decent living standards for renters.
OTOC research actions on housing code violations soon revealed that the vast majority of violations occurred in low-income, predominantly minority communities with disproportionate numbers of elderly and refugee residents -- many of whom are reluctant to complain. OTOC leaders are now pushing for local changes including required registration of all residential rental property and proactive inspections by the City of Omaha.
At recent press conference, Dennis Walsh of OTOC argued, "Registration and inspection creates a healthier market not a more expensive market.”
Having helped shape Legislative Bill 85, which would require cities like Omaha to implement these reforms, Walsh and other OTOC leaders are mobilizing at the state level to ensure dignified housing.
Beckas Beat: Do We Live In a Perfect World?, FOX 42 News
New Website 'We Don't Slum' Aims to Put Pressure on Problem Landlords, Omaha World-Herald
Landlords, renters clash over idea of rental inspections in Omaha and Lincoln, Omaha World-Herald
OTOC Fact Sheet on LB 85, OTOC
With access to health care on the line for 90,000 Nebraskans, OTOC leaders worked hard to expand Medicaid for those with no health insurance. After efforts to secure enough votes to overcome a filibuster in the Nebraska Unicameral proved unsuccessful, OTOC partnered with allies in 2018 to secure a place on the November Midterm ballot for 'Initiative 427' as a way to secure Medicaid Expansion in Nebraska. On November 6, 2018, the effort succeeded.
Over the course of the year, OTOC leaders mobilized 50 individuals who secured 3,500 signatures in the effort to get the initiative on the ballot. OTOC organized 17 civic academies in Omaha congregations and public libraries to help build an educated constituency and, in efforts to educate the public, published seven Opeds, including four in the Omaha World Herald. In the final days leading to the vote, the World Herald selected OTOC to counter final arguments by a team including the former Governor, Attorney General and a member of Koch Brothers Nebraska.
Leaders testified at State hearings, leveraged commitments from winning Congressional candidates to protect Medicaid Expansion if Initiative 427 were to pass, and organized a fall accountability assembly in which all seven Unicameral candidates committed to implementing Medicaid expansion.
Initiative 427 won with a margin of 41,594 votes statewide. Counties where OTOC focused -- Douglas and Sarpy -- were critical to overcoming vote deficits elsewhere. In Douglas County, alone, 111,630 residents voted FOR Initiative 427, approximately one third of the statewide total, and far exceeding the margin of victory.
OTOC leaders are now turning their attention to implementation of Medicaid expansion, to ensure it reaches those who most need it.
Imperative That Nebraska Pass Initiative 427 and Expand Medicaid, Omaha World Herald
Medicaid for Public Health, Omaha World Herald
TPS allows immigrants and refugees like OTOC leader and 20-year resident Wilfredo Rivera (featured in photo above) to avoid deportation. This issue affects 400,000 immigrants nationally, not including their children.Read more
After working for the last 6 years to increase City funding to demolish 800 condemned buildings in Omaha, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) testified in favor of $1.1 Million included in the proposed 2018 City budget for demolition of condemned structures, up from just $250,000 in 2012 when OTOC started pushing for increases. As a result, the backlog of abandoned houses has been brought down from over 750 to less than 125.Read more
Referencing Catholic Social Teaching, the Methodist Book of Discipline and Lutheran social statements, Spurgeon announced that OTOC "does not care who is named after," it just needs to be in place before withdrawing currently available healthcare options.Read more
Leaders also engaged candidates for the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) to secure commitments to work with the organization to move more quickly towards clean energy sources.Read more
OTOC Challenges Proposed Utility Rate Increase After Fighting Blight and Increasing Rental Housing Inspections
On the dignified housing front, Omaha Together One Community (OTOC) not only succeeded in tripling the budget for demolition of blighted properties between 2012 and 2015, it persuaded the City Council to increase housing re-inspection fees levied on neglectful property owners, sufficient to increase the number of trained rental housing inspectors in the field to nine. In a move against slumlords who abandon their properties, OTOC compelled the Council to pass a vacant property registration ordinance requiring owners to pay $500 for every quarter a house lies vacant (up to $2,000 / year). OTOC succeeded over the opposition of the Landlord's and Nebraska Bankers associations.Read more
In one instance, conversation in the civic academy revealed that immigrant women are often not covered by their husband's health insurance policy (nor by CHIP which covers their children) and thus do not have access to affordable care. Subsequent sessions have been scheduled through the Spring to cover areas like healthcare access, domestic violence, housing and consumer credit.