OPEN HOUSE: Thomas Judds of Ashland Affordable Housing Partners speaks to a crowd of about 60 people gathered for the open house and ribbon cutting to celebrate the 12 townhomes Judds and his partner, Rob Woodling, recently built in Ashland. (Staff Photos by Suzi Nelson)

ASHLAND – The ribbon was cut last Friday on a recently-completed project that added 12 housing units to the Ashland housing stock.

Thomas Judds of Ashland and his business partner, Rob Woodling, celebrated the grand opening of their 12-townhome project with an open house and ribbon cutting. The duo formed Ashland Affordable Housing Partners for the project.

Judds said the 12 townhomes are all spoken for and some already have tenants. All are four-bedroom units with 1,600 square feet of space. All but one have two stories. The lone single-story unit was designed to be accessible according to Americans with Disabilities Act specifications.

Nine of the townhomes are called “affordable units,” with rent set at $625 per month. Renters have to meet income qualifications for these units. Rent increases two percent per year on average and renters would have to certify again each year. The other three units are market rate.

Judds said several words came to him as he thought about this project while preparing a short speech for the open house. They are purpose, dreams, passion, skills, relationships, trust and faith.

“That kind of sums it up for me,” he said.

Judds credited his partner for his support, along with Lucille and the late Bill Sapp, who helped develop the project by making the property available. Dee and Ray Elwood, who have built a set of townhomes in the same block, were also mentioned for their help.

Mayor Rick Grauerholz thanked Judds and Woodling for their successful project.

“It is a good example of a project that is helping fill the needs in Ashland,” he said.

Ashland is a place people want to live, Grauerholz said, and that means there is a demand for housing. The fact that many of these units were rented before the project was complete is a prime example.

“This is demonstrating that need very obviously to us,” he said.

The townhomes are a nice addition to the community as well, the mayor said.

“This will make Ashland grow and look a lot better,” he added.

Affordable Housing Partners were awarded a $500,000 HOME Funds grant from the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority (NIFA) and the Nebraska Department of Economic Development as well as over $1.2 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits to be distributed over a 10-year period. It is an extremely competitive grant, with over 20 projects competing for the $4.4 million in grant funds available each year, Judds said last year when the grant was awarded.

Brad Jacobsen, president of the Ashland Area Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC) that sponsored the NIFA grant, said a housing study done in 2017 showed a need for multi-family housing like the townhomes in Ashland for larger families.

“We were definitely excited to support Rob and Tom’s project,” he said.

Dan Curran, deputy director of programs for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, said the project shows what a city like Ashland can do when they work together as a team connecting, business, jobs and community development with housing needs.

“This is a great example of a community that’s getting it right,” he said.

The project fills a huge need for housing in the Ashland community, according to Rod Reisen, vice president for commercial lending for Bank of Ashland, which provided the permanent financing for the project. He is also a member of the AAEDC board. The idea that additional housing was essential to the growth of Ashland was identified as early as 2014, when the community participated in the Entrepreneurial Communities Activation Process (ECAP) through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension.

Reisen admitted that when he first heard of the project, he thought it was a long shot.

“I really feel like Ashland won the lottery here because Thomas and Rob had the expertise and dogged determination to make it happen,” he said.

Woodling said the willingness of the City of Ashland and other entities to help make this project go smoothly makes him want to come back and develop other areas of the community. He also applauded Judds’ passion for the project.

“I know how much this means to Thomas,” Woodling said. “He’s working to build a stronger community and help the community grow. It’s a special project because of that.”

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