Jun 23, 2023 - Real Estate

Northwest Arkansas' hottest housing's topic: Attainability

Illustration of a dollar sign made out of house keys.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Actively engaging the people most impacted by ballooning home prices helps unlock affordability, panelists told a crowd gathered to discuss the topic Wednesday.

Why it matters: Housing prices and rents continue to soar in NWA, making it harder for lower- and middle-range wage earners — nurses, teachers, police, firefighters and restaurant workers — to afford living in the area, economic experts tell Axios.

Driving the news: Various organizations are working to tackle the problem, and two held forums this week.

  • Community Development NWA, a nonprofit focused on Bentonville and Bella Vista, held a public discussion Tuesday; the Northwest Arkansas Council 's Workforce Housing Center hosted a panel Wednesday with leaders of the 11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, D.C.

State of play: The cost of NWA housing has jumped so much the past few years, residents needed to earn 48% more in 2022 than 2021 to afford a median-value home.

  • Threat level: As of 2019, another 80,000 families were expected to move to NWA by 2040, driving the need for shelter and infrastructure ever higher.

Quick take: There's no single or fast solution to the issue, but a few strategies under consideration by both the NWA Council and Community Development NWA include:

  • Community land trusts — A nonprofit that allows the purchase of a home without the land, which is owned by the trust. These can include a formula that splits any equity between the homeowner and the trust when the home is sold, helping keep the price attainable in the future.
  • Policy change — Duke McLarty, executive director of the Workforce Housing Center, and Casey Kleinhenz, executive director of Community Development NWA, told Axios they're working with city governments to consider how changes to zoning and density — number of living units per acre — impact the cost of shelter. Modifying some long-standing policies could lead to more available housing.
  • Education — Northwest Arkansas policymakers sometimes need help understanding the need for more workforce housing and how small changes can have positive impacts. The forums this week are examples.
  • Engaging communities — The people who need help obtaining affordable housing should be part of the decision-making process, said Vaughn Perry, director of Skyland Workforce Center in Washington, D.C., and a panelist Wednesday.

What they're saying: "You shouldn't have to be a millionaire to live in downtown Bentonville," panelist Kymone Freeman said.

What we're watching: A new website and proactive public relations will be coming from the Workforce Housing Center starting next month, McLarty told Axios.

  • This includes hiring a new outreach coordinator for events like farmers markets and other community events.
  • Kleinhenz told us Community Development NWA will hold another public forum this fall.

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