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Bentonville's Housing Affordability Work Group takes first steps

by Mike Jones | January 29, 2022 at 7:25 a.m.
Sold signs are displayed in front of unfinished homes on Monday, December 11, 2017 at the new Rausch Coleman development in Bentonville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/CHARLIE KAIJO)

BENTONVILLE -- The city's Housing Affordability Work Group discussed how it wants to move forward at its first meeting Friday.

The work group was established by City Council resolution in November. It is made up of seven members and two ex-officio members.

The work group's role is to conduct a review of housing needs availability and affordability in the city by defining affordable housing, workforce housing and any distinctions between the two; analyzing the cost, availability and application requirements for affordable and workforce housing, both existing and planned in the city; and assessing ways the city might have an effect on availability, affordability and application requirements of affordable and workforce housing, according to a city webpage dedicated to the work group.

Workforce housing is housing that is affordable to those households earning 60% to 120% of the area median income, according to the presentation.

Friday's meeting, held in City Council chambers downtown, lasted a little over an hour.

Awais Amin, a work group member, said the meeting went great. He said attention needs to be paid to those who work in the city in a wide range of jobs but live elsewhere because they can't afford to live in Bentonville.

He moved from Fort Smith three years ago. He said he noticed housing costs were 30% to 50% higher in Bentonville.

Councilman Bill Burckart, who has 33 years as a developer under his belt, distributed a spreadsheet to the committee to help spur feedback for the next meeting, set for 11 a.m. Feb. 25.

Burckart, one of the ex-officio members, called affordable housing in the city "a pressing, critical situation."

The sheet was broken down into five areas to consider and with another part where members could mark their choices such as "most important," "Intermediate 1 to 3 years," "long term" and "cost."

Mayor Stephanie Orman told the committee there would be a lot of data to go through, but a program that is Bentonville-specific is the goal.

The group discussed affordable housing versus attainable housing.

Affordable housing is generally defined as housing on which the occupant is paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utilities, according to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Attainable housing is housing that is affordable to those households earning 81% to 120% of the area median income, according to a presentation by Shelli Kerr, city comprehensive planning manager.

Transportation costs can also affect housing affordability, some members said.

The median value of owner-occupied units in Bentonville is $232,600; median monthly owner costs, with a mortgage, is $1,602 and median gross rent is $955, according to the presentation.

The group will host at least two public workshops specifically for public comment. No dates for those meetings were discussed Friday.

The group will prepare a written report outlining a plan of action, summarize public input and data analysis and provide recommendations for further study if needed, according to the city. The group will serve under the guidance of the city Planning Department for administrative purposes.

Findings will be presented to City Council by June 30. More tasks may be assigned to the group at the discretion of Orman or the council for its final report due by Nov. 30, according to the city.

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