After several years in the making, University of Nebraska students will soon see their vision for affordable housing in Valentine, Nebraska, become a reality. Thanks to a collaboration focusing on rural, attainable housing with College of Architecture faculty and students, Lincoln-based Hoppe Development is breaking ground on a townhouse project in Valentine. The 15-unit housing development, the Sandhills Townhomes, began as a concept generated from one of the college’s 2020 design studios, led by Associate Professor Nate Bicak and Associate Professor Steven Hardy.
Faced with a housing shortage that was taking a toll on the local economy, the labor market and the pocketbooks of low-income families, Valentine stakeholders and Hoppe Development approached college faculty to help them explore possible solutions. The collaborative design studio, consisting of fourth year architecture and interior design, plus construction management graduate students, partnered with Valentine city officials and Hoppe Development to create design proposals for rural housing which could later be used for planning, grant applications and other uses. Of the four proposed designs created by the students, Hoppe Development further developed and used one of the studio concepts in an application for Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) through the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority.
After being awarded the tax credits, Hoppe Development marks the start of their Sandhills Townhomes construction with an August 19 groundbreaking ceremony.
“We are beyond excited this project is coming to fruition and the fact our work is making a difference for rural housing is extremely gratifying. We knew it was an issue that needed to be addressed, and if we could help out in some way, we were more than happy to assist the community of Valentine,” said Hardy.
The students worked in teams with the goal of evaluating Valentine’s existing conditions. As part of the exploration process, the studio studied issues such as increasing housing density in Valentine, affordability, sustainability, construction methods and understanding user groups for a holistic picture of the housing situation.
Their research and ideas played an active role in guiding the town towards a prototype that reinforced a strong sense of community and satisfied the need for affordable housing and quality neighborhoods with a “sense of place”. They spent time in the area listening to community members to get feedback on values and housing needs. After evaluating the sites identified, the students started working on ideas and concepts. A variety of housing types, layouts, construction strategies and materials were considered and evaluated. The collaboration determined that duplex or townhome style units would fit the preference for single-family suburban typography while achieving the required density needed.
The partnership with Hoppe Development gave the college students first-hand knowledge of applicable industry standards, codes and regulations. Hoppe Development was able to share with the students their experience of design constraints that come with affordable housing. LIHTC projects particularly have certain design standards, green standards and required amenities to meet the threshold of a competitive and successful application.
Ultimately, the plans used for Hoppe Development’s application to NIFA adopted the student’s suggestion of utilizing existing infill lots for rowhome style, medium density housing, with priority given to individual entrances and yards to maintain some familiarity for the town. The Sandhills Townhomes will feature 15 three-bedroom units with two floorplan styles: single story living, and a two-story design, addressing the needs the students identified for different housing types to meet the community’s demographics. Each unit boasts an attached garage, appliances including washer and dryer installed in each unit, ample storage and a garden plot in each yard.
“I’m humbled to know that our work helped Valentine secure funding for affordable housing and make a real impact on the trajectory of housing in that area. It’s very rewarding to see the efforts of this collaboration with our students, Valentine and Hoppe Homes result in some prototype design ideas for a community,” said Bicak. “We were delighted to get to work with these partners and the Collaborate Studio students, who now get to see their course work make an applied impact in the built environment.” These units will be restricted to households who are at 60 percent or below of area median income at initial move-in, and rents will also be restricted consistent with 60 percent limits. Additionally, Hoppe Development has partnered with Northwest Nebraska Community Action Partnership to target a portion of the units specifically to households at risk of homelessness and to provide supportive services to all tenants of this development.
In addition to working with the students, the community also supported the Sandhills Townhome project by assembling a locally-sourced financing collaboration between Heartland Public Power and Sandhills State Bank, with Midwest Housing Equity Group providing tax equity.
Hoppe Development anticipates the first units to be delivered next May and project completion in August 2023.
By Carly Davis, Jake Hoppe and Kerry Vondrak