BENTONVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — Finding affordable housing in Bentonville is not an easy task, and it’s something the city’s Housing Affordability Committee continues to try and tackle.
“It’s always been a challenge,” said LaDonna Humphrey, Executive Director at Oasis of Northwest Arkansas.
According to its website, Oasis is a faith-based women’s transitional living community that provides safe, supportive housing and resources for women in recovery and their children. Humphrey said they also work to help these women find affordable housing in the community so they can get their lives back on track.
“Having a safe place to live and housing is one of the biggest obstacles that people face, especially in our community,” she said. “People are losing their houses because they’re losing employment because of the pandemic. But we’re seeing that their opportunities for housing they can afford is dwindling.”
That’s something backed up by numbers presented on Friday at the monthly Housing Affordability Committee meeting.
“We have a considerable amount of people that are cost burdened,” said Bentonville City Councilman Bill Burckart, who is also a member of the housing committee.
The committee is targeting three sectors of the community: those in the Affordable Housing range, who make between $20,000 and $39,999 a year, the Attainable Housing range, $40,000 to $59,999, and the Core Housing range, $60,000 to $99,999.
Occupations listed in these sectors are production workers, social services workers, teachers, law enforcement, business people, and architecture/engineer occupations.
Federal guidance says 30% of income should go towards all housing costs, that includes rent or mortgage and utilities.
A market analysis summary cited by the committee on Friday shows the lowest priced house currently listed in Bentonville is $240,000. It’s a one bedroom house, and it would require an income of about $72,000 to meet the federal guidance. According to 2019 census data presented at the meeting, about 30% of Bentonville’s population doesn’t make that much money.
“Our goal is is to try to look at ways that we can increase production increased diversity of housing, because housing doesn’t mean the same for everybody,” he said. “And so we’re trying to look at all the options.”
The median price home currently on the market is $676,500. It’s a four bedroom house, and would require an income of more than $150,000. This price range is completely out of the three target sectors, according to the 2019 census data.
On the rental side, data from the CoStar Group shows the average rent for a two bedroom apartment in Bentonville is more than $900 a month, a price tag that fits for those who make more than $50,000 a year.
Census data shows the majority of people in Bentonville who make between $25,000 and $75,000 are renters.
“Affordability is what is affordable to you,” said Councilman Burckart. “And we’re trying to create an affordable housing tools that fill those buckets no matter what phase of life you’re in.”
More people are moving to the Bentonville area than houses and apartments are available. The committee discussed reasons for this, including increased labor costs, shortages of building materials and difficulties finding land zoned for housing in the city.
“We have to have housing options in our town and not 20 or 30 miles away where it costs so much to come into town, because transportation is a huge element of housing costs,” he said.
Census data from 2018 presented at the meeting shows about 34,000 people are driving from other places into Bentonville for work, while about 8,000 people live in the city and work in the city, and about 10,000 drive out of the city for work.
The committee wants more people who work in the city to be able to live in the city, too.
“If we can’t have a community that has housing for all of its citizens, then it’s really not an inclusive community and it’s not the kind of community that can continue to grow,” he said.
It’s all effort Humphrey greatly appreciates, especially in her line of work.
“I’m hopeful the committee can address these issues,” she said. “We’ve been missing an entire population who has a right to and deserves and should be given the opportunity for safe, affordable housing.”
The committee is still in the phase of understanding the scope of housing problems in Bentonville, and should move into more solution-based conversations in the next few meetings. The next meeting is happening on Friday, April 29th.