Sep 9, 2021 - Real Estate

Northwest Arkansas' path to affordable housing

Illustration of a blueprint-style drawing of a real estate sign reading "sold."

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A study published today aims to be a blueprint for creating more affordable housing in Northwest Arkansas.

What's happening: The Walton Family Foundation (WFF) commissioned the two-part study. It will provide practical recommendations to elected officials, municipal planners and developers about the area's housing challenges.

  • It points out the current urban sprawl taking place in NWA could affect long-term housing affordability.

Why it matters: We reported last week home prices keep climbing as inventory shrinks. Higher prices make it more difficult for low- and middle-income earners to buy homes, build personal wealth and maintain quality of life.

Details: The study recommends communities in NWA take these steps:

  • Take a regional approach. Work with public, private and nonprofit groups working across city boundaries. This creates consistent housing policies and affordable housing strategies.
  • Plan developments where residents can use transportation to work and shop without a car. (Think: bus, rail, cycling and walkable communities).
  • Focus on education, communication and outreach about housing conditions, trends and policies affecting affordability.
  • Increase affordable housing capacity by giving municipalities, developers, public-private partnerships and community land trusts more resources and support.
  • Reform zoning codes to encourage more affordable housing.

Flashback: ​​The Walton Family Foundation started this process in 2019 with a call to action to NWA. It was the first city-by-city economic report that identified housing affordability and disparity as a potential issue in the region.

  • Earlier this year, the Northwest Arkansas Council established the Workforce Housing Center to address housing affordability.
  • The center will eventually present the plan to leaders and hopefully drive cohesive action to create more affordable housing, said Jeremy Pate, senior program officer for the WFF.

What they're saying: Pate told Axios a regional approach is critical because it will involve zoning, infrastructure and other cross-border issues.

  • Affordable housing for all is essential for a healthy economy, he said.

What to watch: The Northwest Arkansas Council is currently conducting a national search for a director of the new Workforce Housing Center.


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