Stuart, Nebraska: A Shining Example of Rural Housing Success

Posted on October 31, 2018

Paula Jensen
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With a population of about 600 people, Stuart, Nebraska is so small it’s considered a village by Nebraska standards.

Yet this village is thriving, thanks in part to innovative housing development efforts that have been underway since the early 80s. It was then that Stuart was deemed a “blighted” community by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and grants from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development created some creative new opportunities.

Today, of the 250 residences in Stuart, 108 homes have been completely rehabilitated and 40 new homes have been built.

Thriving, indeed!

This amazing success story just miles from the South Dakota border led Dakota Resources to invite John Madsen, Chairman of the Stuart Development Corporation, to host  a Housing Development Knowledge Camp at RuralX this past summer. John’s insight has since “rippled” into many rural South Dakota communities, where cross-state networking is in full force.

“That exchange of information goes both ways,” says John. “I have learned a great deal from people in South Dakota and I am glad I was included at RuralX. Through contacts at Dakota Resources we have been inspired to start Home NE, where we host webinars and gatherings based around housing development. Our first gathering was held in conjunction with South Dakota and Dakota Resources brought twenty people.”

Rural South Dakotans are learning from John Madsen as well. The story of Stuart’s housing success proves that anything is possible in a small town.

“It takes perseverance, hard work, creativity and a lot of people with a vested interest,” says John. “We took advantage of some unique opportunities and made housing a priority.”

So how did Stuart transform from a “blighted” community over thirty years ago into a role model for rural housing development?

It started when a total of $350,000 in grant money was turned into a low-interest or no-interest revolving loan fund as part of a home rehab program. Eighteen homes were totally rehabilitated in the first two years, and flexible, multi-level loan payments were used to fund more rehabs and, eventually, several spec homes.

Next, Stuart formed a Development Corporation and borrowed $25,000 to purchase a dilapidated lot used to raise pigs next to the city park. They sold two of the lots for private home development and then borrowed money from the rehab program to build a spec house. The sale of the house allowed the Development Corporation to build a second home, and then a third. Eventually, eight spec homes were built—all sold at cost to families who now enjoy new homes near the city park.

Eventually, the need to seek new grant and loan opportunities led Holt County, where Stuart is located, to partner with 15 other rural counties in Nebraska to create the Central Nebraska Economic Development District (CNEDD). The housing arm of the CNEDD is Central Nebraska Housing and Economic Development, Inc., which provides an avenue for regional rehab assistance, down payment assistance, home buyer education, demolition assistance, grants for single and multi-family housing units and nuisance abatement. Through the CNHED, Stuart has been provided with funding for three demolitions, a duplex and four single-family homes.

“I have lived in Stuart for 43 years and I am proud to call this little village my home. I look forward to future challenges and opportunities and know there is always more work to be done. It’s rewarding work. I enjoy every minute of it,” says John.

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