Developers, architects, financiers, and elected officials came together this weekend to discuss how to make housing more affordable in Northwest Arkansas.
“It’s been exciting, stressful, kind of a whirlwind of emotions.” said Jodi Wilson who lives in Bentonville.
Jodi Wilson has lived in Northwest Arkansas for four years and recently bought her first home. Affordability and accessibility were the two main contributing factors.
“We needed good access to highways and we knew our kids wanted to go to Bentonville school. We knew we need to be in the middle part of town.” Wilson said.
Even though it was fairly easy for Wilson to find housing, elected officials and local architects are aware this isn’t always the case.
“The recent study we conducted is that it’s becoming increasingly hard in our downtowns if you’re not at a higher income level.” said Karen Minkel, the Home Region Program Director for the Walton Family Foundation.
The movers and shakers of the housing industry gathered at the Housing Northwest Arkansas Regional Symposium to find ways to improve the housing market, especially in downtown areas.
“We want residents to have walkable access to downtown services to employment centers to grocery stores more importantly to schools.” said Stephen Luoni, the Director of the U of A Community Design Center.
According to Luoni, a possible solution is to add stores or community facilities to public housing buildings.
“The entire area has a vacancy rate of only 1 half percent. And some downtowns have no vacancy rate. A healthy vacancy rate in the community is 6 to 7 percent. Fayetteville and Bentonville lead the way so it’s really tough to find housing in those downtowns.” Luoni said.
Minkel said while it may be a long road ahead, having everyone on the same page is a great first step.
“You will need actors in multiple sectors to take action on those solutions in order to achieve the results.” Minkel said.
Even though the symposium is now over, community leaders will continue to seek solutions for the lack of affordable housing in downtown areas.