Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Last September, Omaha was rocked by the news of 500 people being displaced as the city shut down an apartment complex where many dangerous and life-threatening conditions were discovered. Shortly afterwards, another complex was discovered, then another and another. Just this past week a complex on 108th and Fort found mold and asbestos in 40 of its units, and people are now having to find new homes (link to story is at end of article). To many people, it has been shocking and disturbing to see people in Omaha living in conditions unfit for even animals to live in.

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Where are all of these issues coming from? How is it that it’s 2019 and Omaha is in the middle of a substandard housing crisis? Aren’t we getting ready to build a beach downtown and have public electric scooters zooming people around? Aren’t there luxury apartments being built everywhere that the eye can see? Omaha is moving up in the world, right? How is it possible that our city can have so much wealth and yet still have the issue of serious substandard housing? Why is substandard housing even allowed? Aren’t there rules to stop it?

Mold covered the doors, bathroom walls and ceiling, and both bedroom ceilings in this apartment.

On Tuesday, March 12th, 2019, hundreds of people filled City Hall for the public hearing on three rental ordinances being proposed, to keep Omaha’s rental properties safer. Restoring Dignity testified in favor of proactive inspections, meaning city code would inspect all apartments and rental homes in Omaha on a regular cycle, to make sure they are safe and up to minimum housing code (no gas leaks, safe electrical systems, no mold issues, ladders installed for below ground apartment, fire detectors installed, etc).

The grand majority of families we serve live in substandard housing, which negatively affects so many aspects of their lives: children have much higher rates of asthma when living in substandard housing, illness abounds in situations where families live amongst mold and cockroach and rodent droppings, and living with bed bugs can cause anxiety, insomnia, and significant lack of sleep. Substandard housing has no place in Omaha and we want it fixed!

Blood from bed bug bites covers this Omaha family’s sheets.

Our current system only enforces the law IF a tenant (or a person acting on behalf of the tenant) makes a formal complaint to city code (which involves giving your name and phone number, which is then given to the owner of the building….there are no anonymous complaints allowed in Omaha after the city signed a “consent decree” in 2015, after some Omaha landlords sued). Many tenants are afraid to file formal complaints, and those that do have shared that they experienced retaliation from their landlord. You wouldn’t think this kind of stuff happens in Omaha….but it does.

After an Omaha family reported their collapsed and leaking ceiling to city code, their landlord attempted to evict them.

Every week, Restoring Dignity receives emails and phone calls from tenants across the city with horror stories of what they are going through. This is in addition to the refugee families we see who are suffering in unacceptable conditions. It’s heartbreaking to hear so many stories and see so many devastating pictures. We have a true substandard housing crisis in Omaha and it needs to be addressed.

A colony of cockroaches was found living and breeding behind this family’s refrigerator. The family moved into a pre-infested unit.

Many landlords at the hearing on the 12th testified that having proactive inspections would be a punishment for them. However, we would like to encourage good landlords to reframe the way they see proactive inspections. This is about the good of all. It’s about ensuring that tens of thousands (perhaps more) of vulnerable people in Omaha can live in housing that is safe and up to minimum housing code. Inspecting rental units to ensure safety is the same as inspecting restaurants to ensure safety. Proactive inspections require a collective mind-set — it requires us to think in terms of our neighbors. Yes, it might be inconvenient to meet a code inspector once every 4 years at your apartment building, but if you’re keeping things up to minimum housing code (which is the law), you have nothing to worry about. That one day of inconvenience means that many vulnerable people will also receive a day when city code comes in and forces their landlord to fix the substandard issues in their homes. We have to think about what is best for our neighbors.

Proactive inspections require a collective mind-set — it requires us to think in terms of our neighbors.

Mold can be seen growing behind this leaking toilet tank. On the floor, mice have eaten through the baseboard.

Did you grow up listening to the gentle voice of Fred Rogers on your TV? The song, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” might be going through your mind right now. Mr. Rogers was a role model for many children and he encouraged everyone to be the best they could be and to also care about their community.  One pearl of wisdom he left with us was this:

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

-Fred Rogers

We need our entire community to be a hero. This includes citizens, landlords, city council members, the mayor, and anyone else who calls Omaha home. It is our responsibility to take care of our neighbors. It is our responsibility to see the need and to respond. Things will not change in Omaha unless we decide to make a change. We have a unique opportunity in our hands right now to change the law and ensure that everyone has a shot at safe and decent housing. This is not revolutionary thinking. It is thinking with conscience. It is asking ourselves to be great neighbors by thinking of all of our Omaha neighbors and making decisions that benefit those who need help the most.

This is not revolutionary thinking. It is thinking with conscience.

There are many vulnerable neighbors throughout this city that need us. They need us to stand behind them and say, “You matter.” They need us to support laws that protect their health and well-being. They need us. And we need them. All of us support each other, as it takes all of us to make this city work. It takes all of us to fill all the jobs that make Omaha a living, breathing, and functional city. And it’s going to take all of us to make sure that every member of our society lives in safe and decent housing.

Tomorrow is a very big day for all of us. City Council members will be voting on whether to institute a rental inspection ordinance tomorrow, Tuesday, April 2nd, 2019 at 2:00pm. If you have time, we would encourage you to join us at City Hall (1819 Farnam Street), to show your support of proactive rental inspections.

“Our world hangs like a magnificent jewel in the vastness of space. Every one of us is a part of that jewel… We are intimately related. May we never even pretend that we are not.”

-Fred Rogers



Hannah Wyble

Restoring Dignity


Link to story about 108th and Fort apartment complex tenants being displaced:


The Housing Rights Movement of Omaha

Yesterday, Restoring Dignity stood in solidarity with various advocacy organizations in Omaha, as well as with former and current tenants of the landlord Dave Paladino, to testify in front of Omaha’s City Council about the TIF financing that Mr. Paladino has applied for to renovate two buildings near downtown Omaha. As many volunteers with Restoring Dignity can testify, the conditions in many of the apartment units that we have observed that are owned by Mr. Paladino, have been substandard to say the least. This is based on conditions that we have seen since we first began “making over” refugee homes in 2012.

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The City Council Meeting on January 8th, 2019

A search into past pictures of families we have served who lived in Paladino units, show that the same issues that are happening today in his rentals have been happening since at least 2013.

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This picture was taken in October 2014. Mold can be seen growing next to a vent. One can only suspect that mold was present within the ductwork itself.
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We served this family back in January of 2014. Their cockroach infestation was deplorable. Cockroaches can be seen hiding behind a glass, while their fecal matter can be observed as the black dots splattered profusely in the cabinet. Everytime this family grabbed a plate, bowl, or cup from the cabinet, they were contaminated with cockroach feces.
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This picture was taken in 2013. Cockroaches can be seen hiding in the corner of the drawer, right next to this young child’s head.
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In August 2014, we went to serve this family and found that they were missing part of the ceiling in their bathroom.  Water damage had been an issue in this bathroom for a long time, as is apparent by the patchwork that can be seen on the walls surrounding the hole.

In June 2016 we served a refugee family living in one of  Mr. Paladino’s units who had been struggling with a significant bed bug and mouse infestation.

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This young mother showed us bed bug bites covering the body of her two year old child.
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Bed bug bites on the young mother’s arm.
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Holes in the floor, where mice were coming into this family’s apartment
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The plumbing in this family’s home was so bad that the kitchen sink, bathroom sink, and bathtub would not drain. The family had to live with this and find ways to dispose of water other than the sinks.

One of the worst areas we ever observed were in Mr. Paladino’s units off of Northwest Radial Highway. Pictures tell the story the best. These were taken in November 2013.

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This dead rat was found in the shared laundry room for the building.
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This is the wash machine that was available for tenants to wash their clothes in. The smell that came from the water when the lid was opened was horrific.
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The air filters were missing from the furnaces.
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This is an outdoor light that is in non-functioning.
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Mold on the ceiling of a bedroom.

If past pictures do not hit home with readers, then perhaps current pictures will. These pictures were taken in December 2018 and January 2019. They are all from Paladino properties.

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Hallways like this have been found in most of the apartment buildings we have visited while meeting with Yale Park families and other refugee families.
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Hallway conditions
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One of the windows of a Yale Park family now living in a Paladino apartment
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This entire building had NO working lights inside. Meaning that at nighttime, people had to navigate to their apartments in total darkness.
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Deteriorating staircase
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This picture was sent to us by a volunteer. The duct tape is covering up a huge hole where mice have been coming in.
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This huge hole was found on the top staircase into an apartment unit.
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This window in a common area laundry room was broken for at least two weeks.

Our past experience with Mr. Paladino’s substandard rental units compelled Restoring Dignity to publicly testify before Omaha’s City Council. The following testimony was given:

Restoring Dignity Testimony- City Council – 1-8-19

To watch the testimonies of almost two dozen tenants, organizations, and concerned citizens, please see the following video:

In all fairness, Mr. Paladino is not the only landlord in Omaha who has buildings in subpar conditions.

Here are a few other companies we’ve seen:

Maxim Realty:

This is of a picture of the entire wall of a bedroom owned by Maxim Realty. We went to this family’s apartment in August 2018 because we heard they were having issues with air conditioning and needed help getting someone to fix it. The family asked us to look inside their master bedroom and this is what we found. The mold smell was so strong when they opened the door – the smell is undescribable.

Corsica Management:

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When we helped a refugee family in October 2012, the bed bugs were so bad they were crawling up our legs while we stood on the carpet. This is what it looks like when you crush a bed bug that has just been feeding on a human.

Lund Company:

This video was submitted to Restoring Dignity in December 2018 by a tenant who has been fighting the Lund Company for the past two years to fix the leaking ceilings. Watch this full 1 minute video to see the extent of the water damage.

Water leaked into light fixtures in this apartment managed by the Lund Company.
Mold on the ceiling from water damage in this apartment managed by the Lund Company.

AB Realty:

These pictures were all taken in August and September 2018 at Yale Park. While pictures are worth a thousand words, sometimes what is not seen can be just as powerful. Like gas leaks. 75 of them.

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The bathtub plumbing had been leaking into the food pantry and created a horrific amount of black mold. This family also lived without hot water from May 2018 until September 2018. To get hot water, they had to boil it on the stove.

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Why share these pictures? Why call out landlords? Because for far too long the practice of slum lording has dominated the low-income rental market in Omaha. It might be embarrassing for landlords to see these pictures being brought into the light.  But you know what’s worse? That there are human beings, people like you and me, people with children, the elderly, the vulnerable, who are actually LIVING in conditions like this. And this isn’t happening in some foreign country or some strange and distant land. This is happening right here in Omaha. Your Omaha. My Omaha. Our city. We don’t know about you, but Restoring Dignity is sick and tired of tolerating the behavior of landlords that practice slumlording. And we’re not the only ones. At yesterday’s city council meeting, so many people showed up from so many different backgrounds and experiences to testify against the inhumane conditions and practices they have been subjected to here in Omaha.

We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Since Restoring Dignity started in 2012, our aim was to provide refugee families with items they needed in their homes. Little did we know that we would stumble upon substandard housing conditions over and over and over again. For years we didn’t know what to do, other than call landlords and hope that the issues were fixed. The majority of the time, this approach simply did not work. This summer, Yale Park was the tipping point of what has now become the housing rights movement of Omaha. Tenants, concerned citizens, and organizations across Omaha are uniting together and are saying “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.” There has to come a point when a society stands up to fight against injustice. In 2019, this injustice is substandard housing conditions perpetuated by slum landlords who have no one keeping them accountable. Restaurants have mandatory inspections, hospitals have mandatory inspections, and yet in 2019, in the city of Omaha, we do not have ANY required inspections for ANY rental units. Council Bluffs has mandatory rental inspections, La Vista has mandatory rental inspections, Kansas City has mandatory rental inspections, Minneapolis has mandatory rental inspections. Why not Omaha?

We entrust our LIVES and the lives of our FAMILIES to our landlords, and yet none of our rental units are inspected to make sure that they are safe and up to code! We just hope that whoever we rent from knows what they are doing and practices ethically. To be fair, there are many very good landlords out there. This post is not about them. This post is about the landlords who are practicing slumlording.

The pictures that were shown above represent only the TIP of the iceberg of the housing conditions that many of our fellow Omahans live in. This is just a fraction of a fraction of a percent of what is happening inside the walls of apartment buildings in OUR city. The time has come for fellow Omahans to stand up and demand that the practices of slum lording be put to an end now and for all. The best way to ensure that slum lords cannot keep renting out substandard units is to enforce mandatory rental inspections.

Omaha’s City Council is currently discussing this very issue and will be bringing their recommendations to the Mayor in the next several weeks. After hearing from city council members yesterday, they do take into account what their constituents are saying. They do read their emails from you and listen to phone calls from you.

There are several ways to get involved immediately:

  • If you are a TENANT who has rented from a slumlord, please send your story (and pictures, if possible) to our email. We will be sharing stories and pictures with city council members throughout the next few weeks. Our email is: email@rdomaha.com or you can message us through Facebook via our page or our group by searching: Restoring Dignity Omaha.
  • If you are a CONCERNED CITIZEN, please email or call your city councilperson and let them know that you are concerned about substandard housing conditions in Omaha. Please let them know that you SUPPORT mandatory rental inspections.
  • If you are a Restoring Dignity VOLUNTEER who has SEEN the conditions of sub standard rental units, please share your story of what you have seen with either us or with your city councilperson.
  • If you would like to be notified when major meetings will be occurring in regards to the substandard housing crisis in Omaha, please email us and let us know. We’ll put you on a special mailing list: email@rdomaha.com
  • If you are an organization, workplace or church who would like to PUBLICLY support safe housing and mandatory rental inspections, please let us know!
  • If you are a member of our Omaha government, I will leave you with this quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:

Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.

Here is contact information for all Omaha city council members:

Contact your city council member and tell them that you are concerned about substandard housing in Omaha. Tell them you SUPPORT mandatory rental inspections!

District 1: Pete Festersen Phone: 402-444-5527 email: Pete.Festersen@cityofomaha.org

District 2: Ben Gray Phone: 402-444-5524  email: Ben.Gray@cityofomaha.org

District 3: Chris Jerram Phone: 402-444-5525  email: Chris.Jerram@cityofomaha.org

District 4: Vinny Palermo Phone: 402-444-5522  email: Vinny.Palermo@cityofomaha.org

District 5: Rich Pahls Phone: 402-444-5528  email: Rich.Pahls@cityofomaha.org

District 6: Brinker Harding Phone: 402-444-5523  email: Brinker.Harding@cityofomaha.org

District 7: Aimee Melton Phone: 402-444-5526  email: Aimee.Melton@cityofomaha.org



Hannah Wyble

Restoring Dignity


(c) 402-305-8139

Help Needed for Refugee Family of 10

Help Needed for Refugee Family of 10

Restoring Dignity was made aware of the needs of a local Omaha refugee family of 10 that is struggling to obtain household items and are struggling to do things such as: assemble a donated bunk bed and hook up the dryer so they can use it. We are looking for help in obtaining some items to help make life easier for them. We are also looking for a handy person who can help them build their bunk bed and install their dryer.

The family needs the following:

  • Large microwave
  • Large rice cooker
  • TV
  • DVD player
  • Computer/laptop for children to do homework
  • Diapers size 3
  • Diapers size 4
  • Diapers size 5
  • Diaper wipes
  • Need someone to help them put their bunk bed together
  • Need someone to help them install their dryer

If you can help with these needs, please sign-up here!