New Workforce Housing Center Launches in Northwest Arkansas to Address Regional Needs

A new center focused on addressing the emerging issue of housing affordability in Northwest Arkansas launches today.

The workforce housing center will be incubated at the Northwest Arkansas Council with support from the Walton Family Foundation.

“Teachers, firefighters, health care workers and other residents face increasing obstacles in finding housing at affordable rates relative to their incomes,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “These barriers often prevent people from living in and contributing to the richness of the communities where they work. Ensuring our residents have quality, attainable homes must be a priority.”

Rapid population growth is predicted to continue in the region for at least the next 25 years. Homebuilders aren’t expected to produce enough housing or provide the kind of housing affordability the region’s workforce will need to support that growth.

The center will collaborate with community partners to strategically address housing needs and priorities in the region. The goal is to strengthen the bonds in Northwest Arkansas communities by creating a variety of well-designed housing options and mixed-income neighborhoods for the region’s workers and their families. The center will promote housing development in proximity to employment centers, lifestyle amenities and services such as diverse mobility options.

“The economic and cultural vibrancy in Northwest Arkansas will continue to drive growth, and a diversity of housing options connected to opportunities and experiences will ensure that growth is inclusive,” said Karen Minkel, Walton Family Foundation Home Region Program director. “The center will champion community-driven solutions that lead to dynamic neighborhoods and serve as a resource that helps the public and private sectors develop workforce housing options.”

Housing affordability is a rising concern as it is increasingly inaccessible for workers, families and seniors in Northwest Arkansas, according to the 2019 Our Housing Future study funded by the Walton Family Foundation.

The findings project that more than 80,000 families will move to Northwest Arkansas’ four largest cities by 2040. By then, the region will need to be building 2,900 units a year, but the study reveals Northwest Arkansas’ four largest cities averaged just 1,400 units annually from 2010 to 2016. The report recommends about half of the housing units must be appropriate for workforce households (defined as a family of four earning less than $78,000 a year).

“Like many other cities in the region, Springdale is growing rapidly and needs more housing options that are affordable to respond to the increased demand,” said Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse. “I look forward to working collaboratively with the Council and other community members to address this mounting challenge proactively.”

Data from the University of Arkansas Center for Business and Economic Research shows how Northwest Arkansas’ housing landscape continues to evolve. The Skyline Report published this month showed record-breaking home sales prices in the two counties, paired with a remarkably low inventory of homes available to buy. The cost of purchasing a home increased 11% last year, averaging $293,403 in Benton County and $268,987 in Washington County.

Many Northwest Arkansas residents choose to live away from key workforce centers within cities due to lower housing costs in outlying areas. However, savings on housing costs are offset by higher transportation costs and increased commute time. The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) in Chicago created a Housing plus Transportation Index (H + T Index) to measure those costs. CNT considers communities affordable if families spend no more than 45% of their income on H+T; Northwest Arkansas sits at 52%.

The Council will convene partners committed to addressing housing issues across the region, including Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, Community Development Corporation of Bentonville/Bella Vista, Excellerate Foundation and Partners for Better Housing. Northwest Arkansas will need community-driven solutions to address housing affordability effectively.

“Hard-working Marshallese community members often struggle by paying high rent and face a challenging path to homeownership,” said Melisa Laelan, director and founder of Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese. “We look forward to helping shape the direction of the center’s housing-focused work to serve the needs of Marshallese families in Northwest Arkansas.”

The Council is conducting a national search for an executive director to lead this region-wide effort. The executive director will offer the region knowledge of best practices on the financial aspects of workforce housing development and how cities can adjust to prioritize housing needs.

Learn more at nwacouncil.org/housing.