September 09, 2021

It's Thursday already?

☀️ Today's weather: Sunny and mid-80s.

Today's newsletter is 870 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: The path to affordable housing

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 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.

What they're saying: Jeremy Pate, senior program officer for the WFF, tells Axios that 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.

2. Federal help for Arkansas hospitals

Source: Martine Pollard on behalf of NWA hospitals. Chart: Alex Golden/Axios

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced yesterday during a news conference the U.S. Department of Defense will send a team of medical professionals to help care for COVID-19 patients. Hutchinson made the request through the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.

Details: A 20-person team is set to arrive today to help UAMS in Little Rock for at least 30 days. The team includes 14 nurses, four doctors, and two respiratory therapists. Four nurses specialize in critical care.

  • Arkansas will add 27 ICU beds this month, Hutchinson said.

Why it matters: Overwhelmed hospitals — with more patients and limited staffing and beds — continue to be a major concern for the state.

Threat level: The state had 23 available ICU beds Wednesday morning. Ten were for COVID-19 patients. However, in recent weeks, the state has seen as few as zero available ICU beds.

By the numbers: Arkansas had 1,209 hospitalized COVID-19 patients Wednesday. About 91.5% of those hospitalized are not fully vaccinated.

Yes, but: About 61% of Arkansans 12 and older are at least partially vaccinated. The state surpassed 50% about three weeks ago.

3. Hello Big Apple

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

After a long pandemic-induced hiatus, direct flights from XNA to NYC are back, airport spokesperson Alex English confirmed to Axios.

Details: American Airlines routes resume today, and Delta routes start Monday. XNA expects both airlines will offer daily flights but is waiting for confirmation, English says.

  • "Nonstop flights to NYC have been suspended since spring of 2020, so we are ecstatic for their return," she says.

Context: XNA has ramped up its direct flights to more cities in the past few years, and losing the option to fly directly to the most populated U.S. city was a blow.

4. Well, masks are required in Fayetteville

Fayetteville City Hall. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Fayetteville police officers arrested a man who refused to wear a mask during a city council meeting Tuesday night, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports.

What happened: James William Smith, 40, of Prairie Grove was arrested in connection with criminal trespassing. He received a citation for violating the city's mask ordinance.

  • The city has a mask mandate for public indoor spaces. People not wearing masks at the meeting were asked to leave. Smith said he wouldn't leave unless officers enforced the mask mandate, and he asked for a ticket or to be arrested, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
  • Smith was released later that night, according to the Washington County Detention Center's website.

How it happened: Watch a video of the arrest.

5. NWACC enrollment takes hit

Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

The community college saw a drop in enrollment numbers for the second fall semester in a row.

Context: The drop is likely pandemic-related, vice president of student services Todd Kitchen said in a news release.

  • Compared to the University of Arkansas' increasing enrollment numbers despite the pandemic, NWACC generally has more nontraditional students who may have to work or have children.

By the numbers: NWACC reported it had 7,081 students enrolled Tuesday, day 11 of class. The college had 7,583 students enrolled on the 11th day of classes in fall 2020. That's about a 6.6% decline.

  • NWACC had a 12% enrollment drop from fall 2019 — when it had 8,649 students — to fall 2020.

Yes, but: The numbers above only represent students enrolled in college credit courses. NWACC also serves approximately 4,000 additional people in its workforce development, adult education, and career-credit programs.

💄 Alex recently rediscovered this 90s gem on HBO.

📚 Worth is listening to this book by Graham Greene.

Want free Axios swag? Refer your friends to Axios Northwest Arkansas and get cool merch like stickers, totes, hats, T-shirts and more!