ROGERS, Ark. (KNWA/FOX24) — It’s the start of a new month and Kailey Wever, a mom of three teenagers, said she doesn’t have the money to pay her November rent for her apartment in Rogers.
“I pay $850 for a three bedroom, two bath, 1200 square feet apartment,” she said. “That’s a steal. It’s one of the best things I’ve come across.”
She’s a full-time student working to get her bachelor’s in marketing and communication with a minor in social work through online classes at the University of Phoenix.
However, she was in a bad car crash last summer that left her with multiple injuries and having to go through six different surgeries.
“I had to have four screws to kind of puzzle-piece my pelvis back together. I spent 37 weeks being non-weight bearing in a wheelchair,” she said. “I broke a vertebrae and I hit the passenger window so hard I broke my orbital bone.”
It left her with a massive amount of medical bills.
“That cost alone was $567,000,” she said.
After getting COVID-19 this past summer, she said she wasn’t able to keep her job because of her health issues and had to file for disability.
She said it’s tough seeing how much rental prices have risen since moving to Northwest Arkansas in the 1990s, where her family rented a house.
“The rent for that house which is the same size as (my current apartment) was $400,” she said. “$1500, $1800 is what you’re looking at now.”
Jeff Cooperstein is a research economist at the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. He said the average multi-family lease price across all units in Northwest Arkansas is $860 per month.
He said the cost of rent has grown significantly over the past decade.
“Over the past year, it’s up 12%, over the past five years 32%, and in the past 10 years 61%,” he said.
While rent prices are increasing, he said the median income has not followed that same rate.
“The median income has increased basically about 12% in the last year, so that was inflation wages. It’s risen 29% in the last five years, and then 44% in the last 10 years,” he said.
So, why are prices on established rental buildings so high?
“You have a product that is now competing with higher-priced, new complexes and it allows you the opportunity to start pushing prices up higher and faster than you would have before just because the alternatives are so expensive,” he said.
He said inflation also impacts maintenance costs, which can cause rent to increase. He said a lot of people who are moving to Northwest Arkansas are coming from bigger metro areas where the cost of living is much higher.
“People are coming with higher than average incomes, if they sold their previous house for more, they can buy a house here,” he said. “They’ve got more cash than they would have otherwise, so that helps to push prices up, also.”
Wever said she has until the end of the week to come up with her rent. She said there are limited resources to help in situations like hers in Benton County. She posted in a community group on Facebook asking for help finding any other resources that might be able to help her.
“I called 24 churches, and I would say about 18 of them said they only help in Washington County,” she said. “All the shelters are full, and because of my kids’ ages, they can’t have all four of us. So now what do you do?”
All around her apartment are messages of gratefulness, gratitude and courage, which she said she has to have for her kids.
“Sometimes His plan is bigger than ours and I have to keep faith,” she said. “There’s little things everywhere because I have to remind myself, because if I upset my kids then I’m failing them even more. So, all I can do is pray.”
Cooperstein said public-private partnerships will be key to moving the needle and keeping Northwest Arkansas an affordable place to live, which he said is a major selling point of the area.
He said a lot is decided in city council meetings on zoning laws, so it’s important that people stay connected to what’s happening in their local governments and voice concerns to city leaders.
“How can we change zoning to allow denser zoning?” he said. “Theoretically, denser zoning should lead to more units and more units leads to price controls.”
Many city council and justice of the peace positions are up for election next week in the November midterm.