“The Human Problems in Relocation,” South Omaha Sun, 12 January 1961, p.1, 44, 45.
Topics: post-move; relocation; right of way
This Week’s Sun Special—
The Human Problems in Relocation
A SUN Staff Report
Omahans may not realize it, but a tremendous “urban renewal” program is going on right here and right now.
It has already forced at least 150 families to move. It has seen the destruction of scores of homes. It will wipe out at least 1,000 pieces of private property and change the face of the city as no other single force has done.
This is the impact being made by the Interstate Highway. There are lessons in it for the city, which may be launching an even bigger, formal urban renewal program before too long.
The lessons have to do with the hundreds of personal problems—“little” in the framework of a multi-million dollar program, but huge to the individuals affected—involved in moving families from long-established neighborhoods, forcing them to find and finance new homes. These are the problems the city will be facing—and by Federal law will have to solve—if it goes into urban renewal.
To get the measure of these problems, The Sun sampled, at random, a dozen families who were among the first forced to move as the state acquired land for the big 30th and Grover interchange. Their story boils down to a vague resignation, to expressions of failure to recognize the human side of the situation.
One little grandmother, happy in her new home but apprehensive over the $9,000 debt that goes with it, put it this way:
“They (the state) pay for houses, not for homes.”
But a man displaced by the Interstate added this view:
“Most of those yelling how bad off they would be are living better than they ever did before.”
Those are extremes. Most of the families agreed on these effects:
—They were not happy to leave the old neighborhood.
—They had to dip into savings or take on new debts to find new homes.
—They had to pay a full year’s taxes even though they lived in their old homes for less than half of 1960.
—State employes were courteous but not very helpful.
—The state had them under the gun: they felt they should have received more for their houses, but if they fought it in court, they could wind up with less.
Rightly or wrongly, these are questions that will be raised if the city goes into urban renewal. Planners will have to expect them to take steps to answer them.
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Mr. and Mrs. August F. Wietzki had lived 37 years at 2912 Vinton when rooted out by the Interstate. They had a 50-year-old seven-room house, got $10,000 for it.
The Wietzkis bought a cozy four-room house at 1218 S. 44th for $11,500, but another $500 into it for some alterations. Their old home was clear. They had to dip into their savings for $2,000 to pay for the new one, which is about 30 years old.,/
This was hard on the Wietzkis. They were saving the money—they have never owned a car—for their old age. Two years ago Mr. Wietzki was put out of a job when the wholesale grocery firm he’d been with 37 years dissolved. He now works as a night watchman, at half his former salary, at County Hospital, which is only a short walk from the new home.
Living costs and taxes, which are higher on the new place, eat up his small income. They could not have bought the house had it not been for their “old age” savings.
They like their new home, which Mrs. Wietzki finds much easier to keep clean. But they would never have moved from the old neighborhood if not forced to do so.
“Maybe some of those houses were not so grant,” said Mrs. Wietzki, “but they were comfortable to the folks living in them. The state said the old houses weren’t worth much, but that doesn’t help when you go to buy.”
The Wietzkis feel they were treated courteously by the state’s highway representatives—“They had a job to do.”—and that they have fared better than most of their former neighbors.
Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund Gradowski moved about 10 blocks from their old home at 3002 Grover, where they’d lived 24 years. It was a 40-year-old, two-story, six-room house for which they received $7,200, a price they accepted without hesitation.
They now live at 3636 Vinton in a seven-year-old four-room house (two bedrooms), for which they paid $11,200. They incurred a small debt—Gradowski assumed the former owner’s loan—but not enough to affect the families’ finances.
They feel the move was an improvement since they have a better house. Mrs. Gradowski would have liked more room. Their only child, a boy, 12, is farther from Immaculate Conception School and has to take the bus rather than walk. There are few children in the new block, which has been rather hard on him.
Though the old neighborhood was close and friendly, one thing the Gradowskis don’t miss is the noise from the railroad tracks that bordered it.
Gradowski shares one complaint with Wietzki. Both moved from their old homes in the first half of 1960, yet had to pay a full year’s taxes.
Mike Ranallo is a widower. He and his wife built a neat five-room bungalow—“a better house than they build nowadays”—in 1927 at 3012 Grover. They’d lived in that block since 1912, and Ranallo expected to live out his life there.
Last summer he moved—with a son, Tony, a daughter and her husband, Leo Golla, Jr., and their young daughter, who make their home with him—to a brand new house at 2823 S. 38th ave.
Ranallo got $10,000 for his old house, which he frankly feels was $2,000 too low. He paid for a private appraisal, has a letter showing it appraised at $11,250.
“But I didn’t push it,” he says. “None of us did, because we felt we’d get less than we’d been offered. Anyhow, we didn’t see a whole lot of those state men, so there wasn’t much change to argue. And I had this place bought and needed the money.”
His new house is a ranch type with three bedrooms, living room and a combination kitchen-dining room. There is a garage in the basement.
Ranallo had his former home paid for, took $7,000 out of his savings so he wouldn’t have to go in debt for the new one. He retired eight months ago from the National Lead Co., misses the friendly visits in the old neighborhood with all of the old timers he knew. He doesn’t see them much any more.
His view of the Interstate’s displacement program is that “what they should have done was to buy people places just like they had.”
Mr. and Mrs. John H. Sudyka have felt financial hardships through having to move. They went from 2932 Vinton to a newly built house at 4262 E, and had to do some refinancing to get it.
Their new five-room home—with three bedrooms—cost $16,000, is considerably smaller than their old four-bedroom place. And with eight children at home ranging from 5 to 21 years of age, space is a premium. But the new home is better because it’s newer.
The Sudykas got $11,750 for their 34-year-old home. They had bought it 20 years ago for $3,450, put over $7,000 worth of improvements into it, not counting the labor of Sudykas, who feels the house should have brought $15,000.
The Sudykas didn’t want to take on a bigger debt because “we’re not getting any younger,” and didn’t want to take it on at higher interest rates to boot.
Though they miss the old neighbors, they like the new neighborhood. They do not feel it is as convenient for shopping and find that transportation by bus is more difficult.
The kids have to walk 10 blocks to their parochial school, compared to about four blocks before. They can’t go to a closer Catholic school because of overcrowding.
Mr. and Mrs. Art Toy love the large, airy home they moved into at 3801 S. 25th. But they get a hollow feeling at the $9,000 they have to pay off over the next 15 years.
Toy is a cab driver, has driven taxis at night for 30 years. He is 60 years old, feels lucky to have gotten a home loan. But the move has created a definite financial pinch. Where house payments used to run $23 a month, they’re now $80.
Almost Paid Off
The Toys moved from 2916 Vinton, where they almost had their old six-room house paid for. Toy was 18 when his parents moved into that house, had lived there most of the time since, and steadily since 1940 when he and his wife set out to buy it.
They got $8,400 for that house, “which probably was all it was worth,” he said, “but you couldn’t duplicate it for that.” They had planned on living there the rest of their lives.
Their present house, across form Highland Park, has nine rooms. Helping occupy it are a daughter and her three children, who have lived with the Toys about five years. A daughter-in-law also is there at present. Mr. and Mrs. Toy have five daughters, two sons and 23 grandchildren and “are so proud of them.”
Mrs. Toy suffered a heart attack shortly after they decided to buy the house. Though the idea of borrowing the money worried her, she does not blame the heart attack on that, says “It was coming anyway.” Her family thinks differently.
Other than the debt, the Toys are well pleased with their new (to them) home. It is about 35 years old.
One thing they don’t feel was fair in their move is that the state charged them rent for a month and a half of living in their own house. Because the Toys could not get possession of the new home as quickly as planned and had to stay on, they had to pay the state $147 rent.
“Our intentions were good,” said Mrs. Toy. “And I’m sure the state didn’t need that money, especially when it was auctioning off the houses for about $50. That and having to pay taxes for a whole year . . . those two things were ridiculous. And you had to pay it or you wouldn’t get the last 10 per cent of your money.”
Sharing this feeling about the rent are Mr. and Mrs. Clarence J. Walsh, who moved from 2928 Vinton to 1923 S. 17th. They, too, couldn’t get into the new home because the people living in it were delayed getting into their newly built house.
Walsh wrote to Lincoln asking about staying on, but received no answer. The family lived in their old home for a month and 16 days beyond the 120-day limit the state sets for getting out. Just last week the Walshes received a registered letter asking for $102 in rent.
The Walshes to $8,600 for their 40-year-old 5-room (large size) house. They paid $7,150 for it 10 years ago, and Walsh figures he put another $3,000 into it. He feels the house should have brought “at least $10,000.”
The Walshes’ new home is 38 years old and has six rooms, it cost them $11,500, plus another $2,000 for a new garage. They had the old house paid for, now find their finances strained by a new debt.
The Walsh youngsters, a girl 15 and a boy 7, have adjusted to the move, “enjoy their new school and are getting along fine.” The new neighborhood is nice, as was the old one. But the Walshes don’t feel they are better off because of the move, which gave them one more bedroom: “We wouldn’t go into debt for just one bedroom if we didn’t have to.”
Mrs. Mildred Larson is a person who definitely did not want to move, says, “I’ll never feel that I was treated fairly.”
A widow with two sons, 23 and 17, she received $9,000 “and insults” for a two-story house in which she was born at 2915 Spring. Former neighbors attest that the house was in excellent condition, had a remodeled kitchen, recreation room double garage, yard full of flowers and shrubs. The work was all done by Mr. Larson, who died two years ago.
Mrs. Larson says she paid two appraisers to put a figure on the place. One said $15,000, the other $15,500. “I thought I’d get at least $12,000,” she said.
She said she asked for another appraiser after the first state man set the $9,000 figure and “was laughed at.”
When she found the house she liked, a three-bedroom ranch type at 4535 Polk, it cost $21,000, “which put me in debt quite a little bit.” A state man told her she had no business buying a house like that.
Mrs. Larson disagrees. She is a group chief operator in long distance at Northwestern Bell Telephone Co., has been with that firm 25 years, says that when she retires and goes on pension the house will be paid for.
“But I didn’t like going into debt at my age, and if I could change it all I’d go back to my old home tomorrow.”
Mr. and Mrs. James J. Blaha look on their move this way: “If they had found us a home that was equal to ours and not put us in debt, we’d have called it square.”
Blaha is a disabled World War II veteran, is unable to work. His wife works, and did so before the move, but there was no home to pay off then. They owned their five-room home at 2915 Valley.
The Blahas bought the house 23 years ago for $1,600, put over $6,000 into it in improvements in the ensuing years.
The state’s appraisal was $5,900. They were told they could go to court if they didn’t like it.
Their new house at 4310 S. 21st, is a modest six-room home, about 30 years old. Its floor space is about the same as the 50-year-old house they gave up. Cost of the new place was $6,200 and they have spent $1,500 fixing it up. This has meant borrowing money, which will take eight years to pay off.
Mr. and Mrs. Blaha like the new neighborhood, as do their son 17, and daughter 13. They adjusted and find their new neighbors “very friendly.” Blaha’s biggest complaint was “the lack of communications from the state,” which left him feeling as though he didn’t know what was going on.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Cich lived at 2919 Spring for 30 years before moving last spring to 3922 Castelar. Cich is a retired Union Pacific boilermaker.
His feeling is that “if the state had paid what the houses were really worth, nobody would be kicking.”
He got $9,450 for his house. The state’s appraiser called it a four-room house, yet another state’s employe allowed the Ciches moving costs for five rooms, (Families displaced by the Interstate get $10 a room for moving expenses.)
Mr. Cich had put in a new gas furnace, hot water heater, new rug and enclosed the porch of the house “that was to last us the rest of our lives.”
Cich said that, when he tried to complain about the $9,450 price, the man he talked to on the phone said, “I’m from Lincoln and I don’t know what Omaha property is worth.”
But Cich is well pleased with the five-room bungalow that he has now. It was sturdily built about 30 years ago by a contractor who lived in it, and sits on a larger than average lot. The place cost a little over $13,000.
Says Mr. Cich, “We feel very lucky compared to most.”
Mr. and Mrs. Alfred P. Rasmussen lived in a house at 2917 Valley that was only five years old. So they bought it back from the state, had it moved to 3623 Spring.
The state appraised and paid the Rasmussens $13,500 for the two-bedroom house. It has 850 square feet. They bought it back for $1,200, contracted a mover to move the house for $3,400, which included the foundation. They paid $3,600 for the lot. They spent another $700 to rebuild the garage.
The Rasmussens have no complaints about the treatment by the state. But they were not happy with the house moving, which took three months instead of a promised three weeks. During that that time they lived with relatives.
They wouldn’t want to go through it again. They feel they lost a little money on the transaction “and still have a moved house.”
Some families interviewed did not want their names used.
Two of these received about $5,000 for their homes. One got a house for $10,000 going into debt for half of it. At age 53 he doesn’t relish the idea of paying it off.
The other got a house for $12,500, was able to buy it with savings, but now has “nothing to fall back on if I should get sick or lose my job.”
Both have nicer homes, and like the others enjoy their new neighborhoods even though missing the old ones. They have their gripes, particularly with the impersonalness of the Interstate approach.
And there was also the man who refused to talk to The Sun and said, “I don’t want to think about it anymore. You didn’t do anything to stop it (the Interstate) before, so why talk about it now?”
These are only a dozen stories out of the hundreds that will be made as the Interstate works its way into the heart of the city.
“Technically,” says Harold Kort, Omaha’s urban renewal administrator, “the Interstate Highway is not an urban renewal program. But certainly it is in the sense that people are relocated and that wide areas of the city are redeveloped.”
Both programs displace people.
Urban renewal sets out with the avowed purpose to remove blight or near-blight. People are moved, buildings come down, new developments—residential, business, governmental, cultural, parks, etc.—replace them.
The Interstate’s purpose is to carry traffic. People are moved, buildings come down, new highways replace them.
But there is a big difference.
Under urban renewal, where the Federal government foots two-thirds of the bill, the program cannot start until there is assurance that the displaced people have some place to go. And it must be to housing better than they had before. A city gains nothing by trading one slum for another.
Under the Interstate program, where the U.S. pays 90 per cent of the bill and the state 10 per cent, there are no such precautions. Where the people go is of no concern to the program. Property owners are paid, a date is set for residents to move out, and that’s that.
Still to come are the problems that will arise when hundreds of renters have to move from the Interstate’s path.
The city is not completely deaf to these problems. But as yet is only feeling its way. Kort’s still new office is ready to help answer questions, but its main function is to enforce the minimum housing ordinance.
Nevertheless, it is assisting some persons in getting long term Federal loans, has compiled lists of lending agencies and real estate firms who have offered their help in helping people relocate.
Actually the Interstate displacement program is just getting rolling here. The problems will compound as the highway moves into more densely populated areas.