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, the Spencer Projects have been embroiled in controversy and crime since, even though there is a strong sense of community and connectedness there. In 2019, the Omaha Housing Authority announced they received a federal grant to replace these homes. This article is a history of the Spencer Street Projects.
Omaha Needed Housing
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
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. Six-acres were left on the west side of the North Freeway.
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 saw the Spencer Apartments as one neighborhood.
As early as 2012, the City of Omaha was discussing how to replace the Spencer Street Projects. They acquired a grant from the federal government in 2019 to begin the process.
In 2022, HUD, OHA and the City of Omaha excitedly announced the demolition and redevelopment of the Spencer Street Projects. Working together with the nonprofit Seventy Five North’s investment in the project, the government has renamed the site Kennedy Square East. A mixed income housing development with about one-third of the units for former Spencer Street Projects residents will be mixed in with affordable and market rate units.
More than 100 apartments, single-family homes, and townhomes will be built on the site by 2024, with low-income and middle-income homes built to look the same.
Demolition began in fall 2022 and is continuing right now.
You Might Like…
- Spencer Apartments official Omaha Housing Authority webpage
- A Birdseye View of the Spencer Projects (A drone video)
- (1977) North Freeway Environmental Impact Statement (PDF)
Special thanks to Ryan Roenfeld for his contributions to this article!