Hundreds of Northwest Arkansas residents said they want the region to have more housing that’s affordable and accessible to all and located near work, services and school.
They shared their perspectives at public forums during the month in the area’s four biggest cities, part of an ongoing study of the region’s housing situation. The Walton Family Foundation, Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission and other organizations plan to have the study finished by year’s end.
Attendees included Jorge Andrade, a Rogers homeowner who works at an architecture firm. He wants the area to avoid the fate of some coastal cities, where people can’t afford to live where they work.
“There’s a lot of gentrification happening in surrounding areas, mainly in Benton-ville,” he said at a meeting in Rogers. “You need to have a balance.”
Susan Hartmann is program director for the nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners, the group working on the study and leading the forums.
Hartmann told the crowds that there are enough apartments and homes in Northwest Arkansas for every household, but prices and lack of available units keep thousands of people stuck in housing that takes up too much of their income.
Census estimates show a majority of Northwest Arkansas households making less than $35,000 a year are considered cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than a third of their income on rent and utilities. For those making less than $20,000, such as a single adult with a minimum-wage job or on Social Security, the cost-burdened proportion surpasses 80 percent.
The region’s four large cities need about 2,000 more housing units affordable to households below the $20,000 income mark, Hartmann said. The shortage multiplies when factoring in lower-cost units taken by tenants who could afford costlier options. With this lack of availability, the cities need 7,000 more units for that income bracket, Hartmann said.
The Northwest Arkansas Continuum of Care, a regional organization working to lower homelessness, received about $120,000 in donations and a state grant this spring to help several dozen homeless families with deposits and a few months’ rent.
The more than 200 residents who attended the meetings included members of local nonprofit groups, city officials and developers.
Besides the forums, Enterprise is running smaller focus groups, talking with elected officials and gathering data with the help of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville College of Business. Local leaders will be able to consult or adopt the study’s final recommendations as they see fit, Hartmann said.