May 22, 2024 - Development

Nonprofit moves forward with attainable housing for teachers

Illustration of an apple shaped like a house.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Housing intended to help Bentonville Public Schools employees afford to live in the city and potentially become homeowners is on its way.

Driving the news: The project was dealt a blow in February, when the City Council voted 4-3 against rezoning school district-owned land on Southeast J Street.

  • The nonprofit Excellerate Foundation had planned to build a 100-unit project there, including 40 units designated for school district employees and the rest for people with an annual household income of $27,000 to $75,000.
  • The vote effectively delayed the project by at least a year because Excellerate had planned to apply for a low-income housing tax credit from the federal government by the March 4 deadline.

Why it matters: Bentonville schools had three new employees break their contracts in 2021 because they couldn't find affordable housing, superintendent Debbie Jones told Axios. Since then, she always asks about housing when interviewing candidates.

State of play: Excellerate altered plans for its McAuley Place development, a separate attainable-housing development at Southwest I and 41st streets near the community center in Bentonville. The property now will include housing specifically for teachers and other school staff.

  • Officials expect to open some units in 2025 and to complete the project in 2026, Excellerate president and CEO Jeff Webster told Axios.

How it happened: Excellerate applied for federal funding for the McAuley Place project rather than the Southeast J Street site.

Zoom in: Plans for development include 120 apartments offering 1-3 bedrooms, as well as 40 single-family, two-bedroom cottages. A two-bedroom apartment will rent for $750 a month.

  • The cottages are for employees of Bentonville School District whose household income is up to 100% of the area median, which is $94,400.
  • The apartments are for anyone whose household earns 30%-60% of the area median income — or $28,320-$56,640.
  • The property will also include a 3,000-square-foot child-care and pre-K center operated by the school district with space for 60 kids. Some slots will be free to low-income families; others will be on a sliding scale.
  • The McAuley project also will offer onsite classes like financial management, Webster said.

The intrigue: At least 20 of the cottages, which will rent for $1,500 a month, will be part of a program designed as a steppingstone toward home ownership.

  • Residents can live there for five years without common barriers like a down payment, private mortgage insurance (PMI) or closing costs. Excellerate will give them back what they paid in principal so they can use it for a down payment on a home — rather than paying rent they don't get back. Webster expects most will receive $50,000.

Fun fact: Construction students from the school district's Ignite program will help build the housing.

By the numbers: The $35 million project is being paid for with $17.4 million in state and federal tax credits; $10 million in philanthropy including more than $5 million from Excellerate; $5 million in state and federal financing; and $2.7 million in bank financing, Webster said.

What we're watching: The school district donated the original property on Southeast J Street to Excellerate in April, according to property records.

  • "There's options to do what we'd always planned on or a different version," Webster said, adding that the organization has no timeline for any possible development on that property.
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