A History of the Spencer Street Projects

Opened in 1952, the Spencer Projects in North Omaha have a long, complex history of neglect, crime and community building.

Spencer Projects, North Omaha, Nebraska

The City of Omaha, working with the federal government, opened the Spencer Homes Public Housing Projects at North 30th and Spencer Streets on June 1, 1952. Built to house low-income people who didn’t fit into the packed Logan Fontenelle Public Housing Projects, the Spencer Projects have been embroiled in controversy and crime since, even though there is a strong sense of community and connectedness there. Here’s their history.

 


Omaha Needed Housing

 

Spencer Public Housing Projects, North Omaha, Nebraska
A 1952 article detailing the opening of the Spencer Projects.

 

After World War II, Omaha needed housing. When white men returned from the war, they insisted on returning to the jobs they left behind before the war. Those jobs had been largely filled by African American workers who moved to Omaha from the South. In the meantime, workers from the military-industrial complex were being laid off, and Omaha’s worse racist behaviors were showing. A lot of Blacks were out of work or underemployed, and they needed places to live.

The City of Omaha responded by securing federal funding to build more public housing projects in the Highland neighborhood. A historic neighborhood, the projects were built on top of the site of a former plant nursery. Designed by the popular Leo A. Daly Company, the Spencer Projects were originally 165 units here. Over time, others were added until there were more than 25 buildings.

 


Demolishing a Neighborhood

 

Spencer Projects, North Omaha, Nebraska
The black lines show which of the Spencer Projects were demolished to make room for the North Freeway.

 

In 1977, the City of Omaha made official the plan to run the North Freeway right through the Spencer Projects. Four years later, in 1981, 57 units were demolished to make room for the North Freeway. According to the 1977 government report, 11 buildings atSpencer Homes, 14-21 and 32-34, would be acquired, razed, and displace 56 families or 160 people. In 1983, new units were built to replace those lost.

In 1990, the Omaha Housing Authority (OHA) replaced a building in the Spencer Projects with separate duplexes built in a style distinct from the projects.

Today, the OHA calls these the Spencer Apartments. There are 297 apartments ranging from one to five bedrooms, renting for a variety of rates according to income levels.

Despite the freeway slicing these projects in half, many people still see the Spencer Apartments as one neighborhood.

 

 


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Special thanks to Ryan Roenfeld for his contributions to this article!

Author: Adam Fletcher

I'm a writer and speaker who teaches people about engaging people. I specialize in youth engagement in communities, at home and through education. Learn more at adamfletcher.net

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