(Note: the following update was prepared by the United Neighborhood Alliances of Omaha.)
The City of Omaha’s proposed 2015 budget includes a $50,000 line item for neighborhood support.
Since the closing of the Neighborhood Center’s Omaha office in February 2013, representatives from the city’s six neighborhood alliances have been meeting to discuss how to best address the needs of Omaha’s neighborhoods.
This volunteer task force, known as the United Neighborhood Alliances of Omaha, includes representatives from the Benson-Ames Alliance, Midtown Neighborhood Alliance, North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, Northwest Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance and Southwest Omaha Neighborhood Alliance.
Early on in the process, the task force commissioned the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Consortium for Organizational Research and Evaluation (CORE) to conduct an assessment of neighborhood need in the city. The assessment included four components:
- Focus groups with neighborhood alliance leaders
- A survey of neighborhood alliance and neighborhood association leaders
- Six community forums (one in each alliance area)
- Case studies of neighborhood programs in cities similar to Omaha (Louisville, Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, Kansas City, St. Louis and Minneapolis)
Prior to collecting the case study data, the research team identified four possible organizational approaches to neighborhood assistance programs or centers:
- A separate 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity is created with a permanent staff and budget, and a board of directors provides direction to its programs and activities.
- Services to neighborhood associations are provided by the coordinating efforts of a strong, grassroots group of alliances. The alliances independently provide the locus of neighborhood development and advocacy.
- Neighborhood alliance leaders serve as the majority of members on a board of directors of a permanently staffed center that provides assistance and programming to neighborhood associations.
- City employees in the planning or community development office, the mayor’s office or a separate agency provide assistance with neighborhood development and function as advocates for neighborhood associations and groups.
Based on its findings, CORE developed six recommendations to consider when deciding on next steps:
- The loss of the Neighborhood Center created a void that needs to be filled.
- Neighborhood associations need support to maintain their viability and sustainability (this support could be funding, organizational development and/or administrative support).
- Omaha’s neighborhood alliances should play a more active role in the operation, development and mentoring of neighborhood associations. They should be advocates for Omaha’s neighborhood associations.
- There needs to be a more structured relationship with the City of Omaha with a stable base of funding.
- In addition to neighborhood associations, neighborhood alliances and the City of Omaha, other stakeholders who have interests in neighborhoods must be identified.
- Neighborhood Scan can be an effective tool to help understand neighborhood conditions, but before it is implemented, the neighborhood has to be adequately informed of its purpose, and the neighborhood association cannot be viewed as a code enforcement agency.
As the next step in this strategic process, the task force has proposed the Omaha Neighborhood Engagement (ONE) initiative, whose mission will be to actively facilitate the development of neighborhoods in the City of Omaha with a professional staff focused on advocacy, development and education for Omaha’s neighborhood alliances and associations.
Pending approval of the city’s proposed $50,000 in neighborhood support for 2015, an additional $100,000 in private support must be secured to launch the ONE initiative. An update on the ONE initiative will be provided following the Omaha City Council’s Aug. 25 vote on the 2015 budget.