May 9, 2024 - News

Housing summit offers affordability solutions

Illustration of a key suspended in mid-air by pieces of taught red tape.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Northwest Arkansas needs more homes, more types of housing and updated, more flexible zoning rules to improve housing affordability, experts said at a summit Wednesday.

  • Groundwork, the workforce housing-focused branch of the Northwest Arkansas Council, hosted the event.

Why it matters: "Our teachers, nurses, firefighters — here in Northwest Arkansas — are being displaced from the central business core of the communities they serve because they can no longer afford their housing," said Duke McLarty, executive director of Groundwork.

NWA has long been a desirable place to live because of its amenities, schools, university and low cost of living. But it's at risk of losing the affordability that makes it appealing, McLarty said. Housing costs also directly affect corporations' ability to attract and retain talent.

  • Those costs also push some people already struggling deeper into instability, urban designer and architect Daniel Parolek said at the summit. (Homelessness is on the rise.)

The intrigue: NWA doesn't have enough "middle housing" like duplexes, townhouses or cottage courts, Parolek said. He added that these types of housing were built more often before the 1940s when U.S. cities' new zoning laws began making them illegal.

  • Architect Alli Thurmond Quinlan reiterated that allowing greater density could drive down costs. The disproportionate amount of land zoned for single-family homes with large yards puts the costs of maintaining infrastructure and public services in a given area on relatively few people.

What they're saying: "We cannot subsidize our way out of a housing policy that is designed to make housing expensive," Quinlan said.

  • Local governments largely have the power to change regulations to pave the way for more options in housing, she said.
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