Tag Archives: affordable

Efficient Urban Transportation in a Zip

February 24, 2017 by

Living in a technologically advanced world has its advantages, like convenience and fiscal recompenses we never could have envisioned.

As a Los Angeles native who paid car insurance the price of a mortgage in some places, one new convenience I can appreciate is Zipcar.

The program has graced Omaha with its presence for seven years. Zipcar was founded in 2000 by Antje Danielson, current director of education at MIT Energy Initiative, and  Robin Chase, co-founder of French chartering service Buzzcar. The pair created Zipcar to provide a more efficient, affordable method of driving in the city.

Zipcar P.R. manager Lindsay Wester, who is based in Boston, explains that Zipcar is as simple as join, reserve, and drive.

Business customers begin by signing up online, where they pay a one-time setup fee of $75 and annual membership dues of $35 for each driver. This membership covers fuel, insurance, mileage, parking, and maintenance. Individuals can pay a $25 one-time setup fee annual dues of $70, or a monthly fee of $7 plus the one-time setup fee.

The Omaha fleet includes two Honda Civics and a Ford Escape. The Hondas and the Ford cost $8.50 per hour Monday through Thursday, or $69 per day. The Friday through Sunday rate is $9.50 per hour, or $77 per day for the Hondas and $83 per day for the Escape.  The other car available in Omaha is a Volkswagen Jetta, which costs $9 per hour or $69 daily at all times. The cars are parked on Creighton and UNMC’s campuses, downtown at 17th Street and Capitol Avenue, and at Mammel Hall near Aksarben Village.

Upon becoming a member, the company sends the user a Zipcard, which functions as an entry key. The ignition key stays inside the vehicle. Each user gets one card with their membership, which gives them access to Zipcar’s nationwide fleet. Upon reserving a car, the company digitally connects the Zipcard to the specific car reserved. The user gains access to the vehicle by holding the card to the card reader placed in the windshield. After scanning in with the Zipcard, a user’s smartphone can be a backup to the Zipcard for locking or unlocking the car doors throughout a reservation.

The company first brought their concept to Omaha in 2010, launching at Creighton University, followed by University of Nebraska in 2012, then the Medical Center in October 2015. In Omaha, the target market has been students, but Zipcars also are useful for travelers.

Melanie Stewart, sustainability manager at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, is in charge of UNMC’s program.

“Last year we had a visiting professor come in, and they had a friend in Lincoln, so they used a Zipcar to visit their friend while in Omaha,” Stewart says.

The Zipcars are also used by visitors of patients who may need to purchase supplies or just take a break from being at the hospital.

Patrick Lin, a 21-year-old Omaha resident, says, “I used Zipcar roughly four to six hours every week during my sophomore year. I first heard about it from some friends in California because they couldn’t have cars during their first year at college.”

Lin enjoys the ability to use a car when needed without the expense of owning it. “Personally, it allows a lot more to get done compared to other services. The only restraint I have is that since there is a time limit, you must plan your activities accordingly. But the per-mile usage you can get when a trip is planned right is entirely worth the time constraints,” he says.

Wester says that Zipcar has remained successful and growing for more than a decade and a half. And as city dwellers become more disenchanted with the idea of owning cars, their success should continue to accelerate.

Visit zipcar.com for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

The Beckmans

February 2, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sadie Beckman—at 2 years old—likes to pick up pretty rocks and cup them in her tiny hands. Then she clicks them together. These are special rocks that her grandmother, Linda Beckman, brought back from past vacations in Colorado and Washington.

Whether she’s practicing her sensory motor skills by playing with Grandma’s rocks or taking short walks with her grandpa, Dennis Beckman, Sadie’s too little to understand the favor her parents, Jennie and David Beckman, did for her.

By returning back to their hometown of Omaha after stints in Boston and Baltimore, they widened their daughter’s family circle. A supportive circle that cares for her, plays games with her, and feeds her homemade sugar cookies.

Young families are increasingly returning home to Omaha to live closer to grandparents for more quality family bonding. Jennie’s childhood friend Amy Isaacson also recently returned to the Omaha area after working as a researcher at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Isaacson says her family moved due to the rising cost of living in the Silicon Valley area and to reside closer to family. The Isaacsons have a 4-year-old daughter and 9-month-old twin girls.

“This has been absolutely the best decision for so many reasons. We have more space. We have family. People are friendly here. It’s more affordable,” Isaacson says.

Beckman, who graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, says they talked about returning to Omaha after they had children. Fortunately, Beckman’s previous job as director of volunteer strategy with the non-profit Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies allowed her to work remotely, so she could take her job with her to Nebraska. She is now the director of community engagement and education for the Jewish Federation of Omaha.

After the birth of Sadie, Jennie realized how important it was to be around her family. “It was really painful to go a whole year with them not seeing her for large slots of time.”

When David’s mom, Linda, heard the news, she says she kept thinking, “Oh my gosh, is this real?”

“Many, many years before, they had wanted to move back,” Linda says. “It all depends on jobs and things. You can’t just decide to move. You have to have an income.”

“It’s fun to watch her,” Linda says of baby Sadie. “When she first walks in the house and she sees you, she just lights up, and it’s like ‘Ahh!’ She just melts your heart.”

The Beckmans also have another granddaughter, Evelyn, who lives in Iowa. “We don’t see her nearly as often, but I’ll send her little packages here and there,” says Linda.

“We just want to be there to be of any assistance that the parents need. My parents were like that. They were always there to pick up the kids after school if I couldn’t do it. They were always there, so it just comes natural,” she says.

The Beckmans take care of Sadie each Tuesday evening. “Dave and Jenny get to have a few minutes by themselves to sort of catch their breath,” Linda says. They get to do things childless people do, like go out to eat without the dining room theatrics or relax on the deck and enjoy each other’s company.”

“I think the biggest thing is just the sense of comfort and security, and feeling like we have backup. And we have backups to our backup,” Jennie says.

Jennie’s support team also includes her own parents, Linda and Harry Gates, and her two brothers.

The Gates watch Sadie each Wednesday evening, and sometimes on the weekends for an hour or so while Jennie runs errands. They like to read books to Sadie or work on puzzles with her. They have tried painting and crafting with Play-Doh—no small feat with a child that age.

Harry also likes to take Sadie on walks. “We go look at the ants, and we go look at the flowers, and we go look at the birds,” he says.

Linda Gates says she really notices how Sadie changes from week to week. “Her vocabulary has just exploded. It seems like it’s all of a sudden, but because we can see her once a week, we really can see that progression. If they were still in Baltimore, we would miss out on all of that,” she says.

Gates, who prefers the name “Gigi” over “Grandmother,” has a penchant for wearing jewelry. “Sadie’s always real fascinated with that. If I have on bracelets and necklaces, I’ll take them off and put them on her, and she puts them back on me. It’s just kind of a nice moment together,” she says.

All the grandparents are happy with the new living arrangements. “It’s great. We’re very grateful and excited that it all worked out for them,” Gates says.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide.

 

Apartment Construction

May 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, Thom Neese, and Malone & Co.

When it comes to looking for the perfect apartment, bigger is not always better…or affordable. And with the main demographic of apartment dwellers in Omaha being Generation Y—those ranging in age from 22 to 27 years-old—they are making their feelings known and developers are listening.

Christian Christensen, owner of Bluestone Development, has been working in commercial real estate for nearly two decades and owns several apartment buildings, including The 9ines and Joslyn Lofts. He knows intimately the wants and needs of those looking for their next space to live.

Christian Christensen, owner of Bluestone Development.

Christian Christensen, owner of Bluestone Development.

“We have done condos, townhomes, row homes, historic renovations…” says Christensen, “but our focus right now is on apartments…all urban. Part of that is due to the market and part of it is due to our passion for apartments.” While the Old Market has been for years the go-to location for urban living, Christensen says that things are changing, especially with the development of Midtown Crossing. “Basically, anything east of I-680 are projects that we look at.”

With his primary customers being Generation Y, Christensen says that price is a big concern. “To make [these spaces] affordable, you’ve got to work hard on floor plans.” He explains that most developers today are designing smaller floor plans because, not only are they more reasonably priced, but “people are heading toward a no-waste type of living.”

“When you look at how homes were developed 15 years ago, you really only utilize 60 percent of your home on a daily basis. The other 40 percent you’re paying for, but not really utilizing it. It’s the same thing with apartments.”

Combine this with the fact that fewer people are living with roommates, these highly sought-after urban apartments are becoming more accessible to people who, a few years ago, could only dream of living in these locations.31273_0279_Web

Jerry Banks, portfolio director of real estate for NewStreet Properties, LLC, also works with developing and remodeling apartments, as well as retail and office spaces. The Omaha-based company owns properties all over the country, including Tiburon View and Huntington Park Apartments in Omaha,. While NewStreet does not develop urban locations and his tenants tend to range from 20- and 30-somethings to empty nesters, Banks says that his tenants are also looking for scaled-down floor plans. “We’re seeing more and more trends toward smaller units, both in studios and one bedrooms.”

Safety and security is another big focus of his tenants, says Banks. “That’s always been and will continue to be a very important renter requirement…very high on the list.”

To meet the demands of his residents, Banks says that NewStreet has been actively addressing a variety of security concerns, including changing all exterior lighting to brighter, more efficient LED bulbs, as well as implementing new, fully automated locks for all their apartments.

Banks refers to the possible security breach of buildings that have master keys or by former residents who may have had copies of keys made in the past. “None of our apartments have a master key of any type…we’ve de-mastered 100 percent of all the locks on all of our properties.” Each key is also tracked by a bar code, allowing the property owner to know who has borrowed a key and when that key was returned.31294_0219_Web

“We put a real emphasis on safety and security for our residents,” says Banks. “These are just some things that most residents don’t see and think about but just take for granted.”

Both Christensen and Banks say that their tenants are looking for convenience and ways to make their lives easier. Fitness facilities, both indoor and outdoor, as well as pet-friendly spaces and amenities, fire pits, and plenty of grilling areas for entertaining are options that NewStreet is providing to their residents.

Bluestone is exploring the options of adding a hot yoga studio, as well as the possibility of shared gaming rooms and a community kitchen that may provide cooking lessons and opportunities for socializing.

Both Christensen and Banks say that customer service is their main priority. “Going forward, everyone is going to have to look at their operation and see how they can deliver outrageous service,” says Christensen. “Because that’s what our customers get when they go to other places. They go to Starbucks…they go to Urban Outfitters…they get outrageous service. They can expect that service where they live.”

Gesu and Brother Mike

April 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Jesuit brother Mike Wilmot prefers his actions to speak for him more than his words. Lately, those actions have helped put several first-time homebuyers in new houses.

After years of coaching and teaching at Omaha Creighton Prep, then doing humanitarian missionary work in Sudan, he’s made North Omaha his ministry base. He helped build Jesuit Middle School and for more than a decade, he’s directed Gesu Housing, a nonprofit he founded that builds affordable new homes in high-poverty northeast Omaha.

Gesu helps him fulfill a Jesuit credo of finding God in all things. He gravitated to the Society of Jesus as a youth in his native Milwaukee.

“I got to know many Jesuits who were very influential in my life,” he says. “They were friendly, they were happy, I admired them, and then I kind of said, ‘Well, maybe that’s what I should do.’ In anything that any of us do, we want to make the world a better place to live in by spreading the kingdom of God and bringing that to all people, and housing-shelter is one of the ways you can do that.”

“Everybody should have a decent place to live.” – Brother Mike Wilmot

Wilmot’s work in Sudan impressed upon him the difference a suitable dwelling can make in people’s lives. Back in America, he realized many urban residents lack a home of their own.

“Everybody should have a decent place to live,” he says, “but it’s not the case, at least for a lot of people it isn’t. It’s proven that kids that grow up in a house [that] their family owns are much better off.” He says kids and families benefit from the stability home ownership provides.

Enter Gesu (Italian for Jesus) as a provider of quality, affordable houses in a working-poor area beset by distressed homes and vacant lots. Gesu mostly does in-fill on empty lots, thus turning neighborhood eyesores into assets. Wilmot lives with fellow Jesuits in the Clifton Hills neighborhood Gesu builds in.

He’s recruited former Prep students as key team members. Dale Barr, Jr., grew up in Clifton Hills and has gone from volunteer painter to board member to board president to paid general manager. Dan Hall, whose Hallmarq Homes is the general contractor for Gesu, played ball for Wilmot.

“It’s rewarding work,” says Barr, whose duties include promoting Gesu and raising funds. A recent direct-mail brochure he sent out netted new supporters. “It’s nice to find people who buy into Brother’s vision,” he says.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here,” says Hall. “We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.”

Gesu works closely with the city to tap HUD dollars that subsidize half the purchase price of each home and make it possible for low-income buyers to obtain low-interest loans and to assume small mortgage payments. Omaha 100 helps buyers qualify and educates homeowners in maintaining their places.20130114_bs_0907_Web

Both the Peter Kiewit and Sherwood Foundations have supplied major matching grants. Kiewit recently awarded a second $250,000 grant, but that means new funds must be found to match it. A fundraiser is in the works.

Barr says Gesu isn’t as well-known as older nonprofit players in the field, but what it offers is hard to beat. He says Gesu homes represent “a tremendous deal,” adding, “If you’ve got good credit, you’ve got a job, and you qualify for a $70,000 loan, you’re going to get into a brand-new, three-bedroom, energy-efficient house for $600 per month.” It’s why he hopes more people discover Gesu and support it.

“It’s not just people getting houses…It’s improving neighborhoods, it’s diverse people living together,” says Wilmot. “It’s been proven the best neighborhoods are diverse economically, culturally, ethnically. That’s the mission of Gesu Housing—to put people into houses and to make the neighborhoods better neighborhoods. “We’ve got to rebuild the city from the inside out.”

Gesu’s doing its part with 17 homes completed and occupied, five underway, and five new ones scheduled for construction this spring. More support can help build more homes and assist more families to live the ‘American Dream’.

“It’s a great thing we’re doing down here. We’re changing the neighborhood one house at a time.” – Dan Hall, contractor with Hallmarq Homes

“We’ve gone from two houses a year to four, and now our cycle’s five,” says Barr. “That’s gotten us in good graces with the city and HUD because we’re doing it…we’re building them and selling them. We don’t have inventory sitting around.

“We’re making our own footprint with these new houses. We try to be a part of the neighborhood. We ask neighbors what we can do better. We give away hams and turkeys to our homeowners and their neighbors at Christmas.”

Hall says the collective neighborhood is protective about Gesu homes because residents appreciate the investment they represent on their block.

“Neighbors that watch houses for me, I give a gift card. It goes a long way, you know, in establishing a relationship. You get some security out of it. Once you get people involved, if somebody isn’t supposed to be here, they’ll run them off or they’ll call me.”

It’s all about building a community, says Wilmot. “We started on Grant Street, then we went to Burdette, and now we’re going over to Erskine. Little by little…”

One house at a time.

For details about how to support Gesu, visit gesuhousing.com.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.wordpress.com.