Jul 25, 2023 - Business

Bentonville superintendent proposes new affordable housing for teachers

Illustration of a lightbulb with a house-shaped filament

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Three out-of-area teachers hired in 2022 for Bentonville schools had to resign before the school year started because they couldn't find housing in their price range.

  • Superintendent Debbie Jones is now taking action to help teachers find places to live.

Driving the news: Jones proposed to the school board last week that the district donate 9 acres of land to develop attainable housing for teachers.

Why it matters: NWA's high cost of housing makes it challenging for lower- and middle-range wage earners, like many teachers, to afford to live in the area.

The big picture: The new LEARNS Act sets the state's minimum annual salary for teachers at $50,000, but the average selling price for a home in Benton County was more than $400,000 at the end of last year.

Details: The $25 million proposal calls for building 93 units that teachers could buy or rent on 6 of the 9 acres. The other 3 acres are in a floodplain.

  • The plan calls for two multifamily complexes with 24 units each, 24 two-bedroom homes and 21 one-bedroom homes.
  • The property would be developed by one entity, then managed by another so that the school district wouldn't become a landlord.
  • The land is adjacent to Bentonville High School, at the intersection of SE S and SE 14th streets.
  • Rent and home prices would be controlled. Initial rent would be $750 and selling prices $180,000 to $200,000.

Yes, but: Because state and federal funding may be used to build the multifamily units, they would have to be made available to anyone, not just teachers.

  • Teachers will still receive most of the benefit.

Context: Excellerate Foundation focuses on social support, housing and workforce education in NWA.

  • Jeff Webster, its president and CEO, said that, in this scenario, the organization would basically act as a project manager, convening various groups, leading the development and providing some of the funding.
  • The foundation has other attainable housing projects in the works.

What's next: Attorney General Tim Griffin will weigh in on the constitutionality of the land donation to a nonprofit.

  • If he gives a green light, the school board will have to approve the donation.

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