On Saturday, June 22nd, 2019, we will be serving our 33rd Restoring Dignity Home-Makeover family! This Karen refugee family of seven is beyond ecstatic to have their apartment made into a place that feels like home. To read more about their story and to sign-up to help,click here.
Last September, Omaha was rocked by the news of 500 people being displaced as the city shut down an apartment complex where many dangerous and life-threatening conditions were discovered. Shortly afterwards, another complex was discovered, then another and another. Just this past week a complex on 108th and Fort found mold and asbestos in 40 of its units, and people are now having to find new homes (link to story is at end of article). To many people, it has been shocking and disturbing to see people in Omaha living in conditions unfit for even animals to live in.
Where are all of these issues coming from? How is it that it’s 2019 and Omaha is in the middle of a substandard housing crisis? Aren’t we getting ready to build a beach downtown and have public electric scooters zooming people around? Aren’t there luxury apartments being built everywhere that the eye can see? Omaha is moving up in the world, right? How is it possible that our city can have so much wealth and yet still have the issue of serious substandard housing? Why is substandard housing even allowed? Aren’t there rules to stop it?
On Tuesday, March 12th, 2019, hundreds of people filled City Hall for the public hearing on three rental ordinances being proposed, to keep Omaha’s rental properties safer. Restoring Dignity testified in favor of proactive inspections, meaning city code would inspect all apartments and rental homes in Omaha on a regular cycle, to make sure they are safe and up to minimum housing code (no gas leaks, safe electrical systems, no mold issues, ladders installed for below ground apartment, fire detectors installed, etc).
The grand majority of families we serve live in substandard housing, which negatively affects so many aspects of their lives: children have much higher rates of asthma when living in substandard housing, illness abounds in situations where families live amongst mold and cockroach and rodent droppings, and living with bed bugs can cause anxiety, insomnia, and significant lack of sleep. Substandard housing has no place in Omaha and we want it fixed!
Our current system only enforces the law IF a tenant (or a person acting on behalf of the tenant) makes a formal complaint to city code (which involves giving your name and phone number, which is then given to the owner of the building….there are no anonymous complaints allowed in Omaha after the city signed a “consent decree” in 2015, after some Omaha landlords sued). Many tenants are afraid to file formal complaints, and those that do have shared that they experienced retaliation from their landlord. You wouldn’t think this kind of stuff happens in Omaha….but it does.
Every week, Restoring Dignity receives emails and phone calls from tenants across the city with horror stories of what they are going through. This is in addition to the refugee families we see who are suffering in unacceptable conditions. It’s heartbreaking to hear so many stories and see so many devastating pictures. We have a true substandard housing crisis in Omaha and it needs to be addressed.
Many landlords at the hearing on the 12th testified that having proactive inspections would be a punishment for them. However, we would like to encourage good landlords to reframe the way they see proactive inspections. This is about the good of all. It’s about ensuring that tens of thousands (perhaps more) of vulnerable people in Omaha can live in housing that is safe and up to minimum housing code. Inspecting rental units to ensure safety is the same as inspecting restaurants to ensure safety. Proactive inspections require a collective mind-set — it requires us to think in terms of our neighbors. Yes, it might be inconvenient to meet a code inspector once every 4 years at your apartment building, but if you’re keeping things up to minimum housing code (which is the law), you have nothing to worry about. That one day of inconvenience means that many vulnerable people will also receive a day when city code comes in and forces their landlord to fix the substandard issues in their homes. We have to think about what is best for our neighbors.
Proactive inspections require a collective mind-set — it requires us to think in terms of our neighbors.
Did you grow up listening to the gentle voice of Fred Rogers on your TV? The song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” might be going through your mind right now. Mr. Rogers was a role model for many children and he encouraged everyone to be the best they could be and to also care about their community. One pearl of wisdom he left with us was this:
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”
We need our entire community to be a hero. This includes citizens, landlords, city council members, the mayor, and anyone else who calls Omaha home. It is our responsibility to take care of our neighbors. It is our responsibility to see the need and to respond. Things will not change in Omaha unless we decide to make a change. We have a unique opportunity in our hands right now to change the law and ensure that everyone has a shot at safe and decent housing. This is not revolutionary thinking. It is thinking with conscience. It is asking ourselves to be great neighbors by thinking of all of our Omaha neighbors and making decisions that benefit those who need help the most.
This is not revolutionary thinking. It is thinking with conscience.
There are many vulnerable neighbors throughout this city that need us. They need us to stand behind them and say, “You matter.” They need us to support laws that protect their health and well-being. They need us. And we need them. All of us support each other, as it takes all of us to make this city work. It takes all of us to fill all the jobs that make Omaha a living, breathing, and functional city. And it’s going to take all of us to make sure that every member of our society lives in safe and decent housing.
Tomorrow is a very big day for all of us. City Council members will be voting on whether to institute a rental inspection ordinance tomorrow, Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019 at 2:00pm. If you have time, we would encourage you to join us at City Hall (1819 Farnam Street), to show your support of proactive rental inspections.
“Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space.Every one of us is a part of that jewel…We are intimately related.May we never even pretend that we are not.”
Link to story about 108th and Fort apartment complex tenants being displaced:
We are excited to announce that we will be serving our 32nd Restoring Dignity family on Saturday, April 13th, 2019! This incredible six person Karen family has fallen upon difficult times lately, and we are going to help infuse some hope back into their lives with a home-makeover. To read more about their story, to see what items they need, and to sign-up to volunteer, click here.
Yesterday, Restoring Dignity stood in solidarity with various advocacy organizations in Omaha, as well as with former and current tenants of the landlord Dave Paladino, to testify in front of Omaha’s City Council about the TIF financing that Mr. Paladino has applied for to renovate two buildings near downtown Omaha. As many volunteers with Restoring Dignity can testify, the conditions in many of the apartment units that we have observed that are owned by Mr. Paladino, have been substandard to say the least. This is based on conditions that we have seen since we first began “making over” refugee homes in 2012.
A search into past pictures of families we have served who lived in Paladino units, show that the same issues that are happening today in his rentals have been happening since at least 2013.
In June 2016 we served a refugee family living in one of Mr. Paladino’s units who had been struggling with a significant bed bug and mouse infestation.
One of the worst areas we ever observed were in Mr. Paladino’s units off of Northwest Radial Highway. Pictures tell the story the best. These were taken in November 2013.
If past pictures do not hit home with readers, then perhaps current pictures will. These pictures were taken in December 2018 and January 2019. They are all from Paladino properties.
Our past experience with Mr. Paladino’s substandard rental units compelled Restoring Dignity to publicly testify before Omaha’s City Council. The following testimony was given:
To watch the testimonies of almost two dozen tenants, organizations, and concerned citizens, please see the following video:
In all fairness, Mr. Paladino is not the only landlord in Omaha who has buildings in subpar conditions.
Here are a few other companies we’ve seen:
This video was submitted to Restoring Dignity in December 2018 by a tenant who has been fighting the Lund Company for the past two years to fix the leaking ceilings. Watch this full 1 minute video to see the extent of the water damage.
These pictures were all taken in August and September 2018 at Yale Park. While pictures are worth a thousand words, sometimes what is not seen can be just as powerful. Like gas leaks. 75 of them.
Why share these pictures? Why call out landlords? Because for far too long the practice of slum lording has dominated the low-income rental market in Omaha. It might be embarrassing for landlords to see these pictures being brought into the light. But you know what’s worse? That there are human beings, people like you and me, people with children, the elderly, the vulnerable, who are actually LIVING in conditions like this. And this isn’t happening in some foreign country or some strange and distant land. This is happening right here in Omaha. Your Omaha. My Omaha. Our city. We don’t know about you, but Restoring Dignity is sick and tired of tolerating the behavior of landlords that practice slumlording. And we’re not the only ones. At yesterday’s city council meeting, so many people showed up from so many different backgrounds and experiences to testify against the inhumane conditions and practices they have been subjected to here in Omaha.
We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Since Restoring Dignity started in 2012, our aim was to provide refugee families with items they needed in their homes. Little did we know that we would stumble upon substandard housing conditions over and over and over again. For years we didn’t know what to do, other than call landlords and hope that the issues were fixed. The majority of the time, this approach simply did not work. This summer, Yale Park was the tipping point of what has now become the housing rights movement of Omaha. Tenants, concerned citizens, and organizations across Omaha are uniting together and are saying “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.” There has to come a point when a society stands up to fight against injustice. In 2019, this injustice is substandard housing conditions perpetuated by slum landlords who have no one keeping them accountable. Restaurants have mandatory inspections, hospitals have mandatory inspections, and yet in 2019, in the city of Omaha, we do not have ANY required inspections for ANY rental units. Council Bluffs has mandatory rental inspections, La Vista has mandatory rental inspections, Kansas City has mandatory rental inspections, Minneapolis has mandatory rental inspections. Why not Omaha?
We entrust our LIVES and the lives of our FAMILIES to our landlords, and yet none of our rental units are inspected to make sure that they are safe and up to code! We just hope that whoever we rent from knows what they are doing and practices ethically. To be fair, there are many very good landlords out there. This post is not about them. This post is about the landlords who are practicing slumlording.
The pictures that were shown above represent only the TIP of the iceberg of the housing conditions that many of our fellow Omahans live in. This is just a fraction of a fraction of a percent of what is happening inside the walls of apartment buildings in OUR city. The time has come for fellow Omahans to stand up and demand that the practices of slum lording be put to an end now and for all. The best way to ensure that slum lords cannot keep renting out substandard units is to enforce mandatory rental inspections.
Omaha’s City Council is currently discussing this very issue and will be bringing their recommendations to the Mayor in the next several weeks. After hearing from city council members yesterday, they do take into account what their constituents are saying. They do read their emails from you and listen to phone calls from you.
There are several ways to get involved immediately:
If you are a TENANT who has rented from a slumlord, please send your story (and pictures, if possible) to our email. We will be sharing stories and pictures with city council members throughout the next few weeks. Our email is: email@example.com or you can message us through Facebook via our page or our group by searching: Restoring Dignity Omaha.
If you are a CONCERNED CITIZEN, please email or call your city councilperson and let them know that you are concerned about substandard housing conditions in Omaha. Please let them know that you SUPPORT mandatory rental inspections.
If you are a Restoring Dignity VOLUNTEER who has SEEN the conditions of sub standard rental units, please share your story of what you have seen with either us or with your city councilperson.
If you would like to be notified when major meetings will be occurring in regards to the substandard housing crisis in Omaha, please email us and let us know. We’ll put you on a special mailing list: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are an organization, workplace or church who would like to PUBLICLY support safe housing and mandatory rental inspections, please let us know!
If you are a member of our Omaha government, I will leave you with this quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:
Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.
Here is contact information for all Omaha city council members:
Contact your city council member and tell them that you are concerned about substandard housing in Omaha. Tell them you SUPPORT mandatory rental inspections!
Restoring Dignity was made aware of the needs of a local Omaha refugee family of 10 that is struggling to obtain household items and are struggling to do things such as: assemble a donated bunk bed and hook up the dryer so they can use it. We are looking for help in obtaining some items to help make life easier for them. We are also looking for a handy person who can help them build their bunk bed and install their dryer.
The family needs the following:
Large rice cooker
Computer/laptop for children to do homework
Diapers size 3
Diapers size 4
Diapers size 5
Need someone to help them put their bunk bed together
On Thursday, September 20th, 2018 the city of Omaha conducted a complex-wide investigation at Yale Park in Omaha, which housed almost 100 refugee families. That same day, the entire complex was condemned due to significant gas leaks in many units, major electrical safety issues, leaking and collapsing ceilings, and many other code violations. All of the units were vacated by the evening of September 20th and families living there were directed to two community centers for temporary housing. Heartland Family Services is actively working with all of the families to find permanent housing with the plan being that everyone should have a house or apartment to move to within a week’s time. As of Friday, September 21st, many families have already been touring apartments and homes with Heartland Family Service. All families have autonomy in choosing where they will live next.
Restoring Dignity has received many texts, calls, and emails about the needs of this community. After discussing with Heartland Family Services, we have decided that the most efficient and effective way to provide families with what they need is the following:
We are looking for churches, organizations, workplaces, neighborhood groups, etc. to sponsor one of the almost 100 families from Yale Park. Sponsorship looks like the following:
Church/organizations/workplaces, etc. will be assigned one family and will be given a list of what that family has requested that they need for their new home. Many families will not be able to bring furniture with them due to bed bug and cockroach infestations. They will essentially be “starting over” and will need essential items likes: mattresses, blankets, sheets, dressers, towels, toiletries, kitchen table, chairs, couch etc. All items will need to be in good condition (no items from homes with bedbugs or cockroaches, and all used items need to be in good condition (no signs of wear and tear or stains).
Each group will be responsible for obtaining donated items and storing them
Once donated items have been acquired, each group will transport items to their sponsored family’s home.
In this way, we believe that we will be able to provide essential household items for all of the families from Yale Park in a very short time frame. Providing home furnishing for almost 100 families is an enormous task, but if each of our churches/organizations commits to one family, we can accomplish this!