By: Duke McLarty, Executive Director, Northwest Arkansas Workforce Housing Center
Far too often, the word “home” is detached from the word “house.” A house usually refers to a structure, a building, finances or a mortgage. While home is at the very core of each of each of our lives. When we talk about housing, I’d like us to focus on the “home.”
Home is where our most authentic self lives, where the outside world is closed out, it’s where we let our guard down and celebrate birthdays, new jobs, the birth of a new baby. Home is where we grieve and where we share our most personal selves. Without “home,” we are left without that life centering core space where our outside lives, all of life’s noise, is sorted out, managed and contemplated. How can we expect members of our community to bring their full selves to work, school and activities without that core “home”?
Over the last decade, Northwest Arkansas experienced unprecedented growth which has pushed home ownership out of reach for many of the community’s essential workers.
Because home construction has not kept up with the population growth, home and rental prices have increased exponentially. To provide a stable home for their families, many of our community’s teachers, firefighters, care takers, retail workers, building trade professionals, grocery and factory workers are driving great distances to get to work. What happens to our businesses and our growth when these workers are no longer willing to make this sacrifice?
Even if housing has not been a personal challenge, everyone has had a story about how impossible it has been for their parents on a fixed income to find a home, or their son, working his first job out of college and starting a family, navigating the challenges of finding a place to live.
In the second half of 2021, the average sale price of a house in Benton County was $345,517 and $311,517 in Washington County. During the last five years, the average price of a home sold in Benton County was up nearly 56% and increased 54% in Washington County. The median household income for a family of four in our region is $62,000. If something is not done soon, our essential workers will be completely priced out.
The workforce housing center will focus on creating “home” opportunities for individuals and families who are the fabric of the region, for those essential for the community to thrive and grow.
The center will facilitate the creation of more homes near employment centers, schools, trails, cultural institutions and transportation corridors. We’ll be leading conversations on housing, offering solutions and partnering with leaders in government, business and the community to ensure more housing options for all in Northwest Arkansas.
In bringing more home offerings to our workforce, every resident, no matter income level, will feel the impact of less congestion and reduced drive times, allowing more time for life at home.
Northwest Arkansas growth models predicted the population to be nearly exactly where it is today and there’s no reason to think future growth models will change. Current projections show the region’s largest cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale adding 80,000 new households by 2040. The region’s population is expected to reach nearly a million residents by 2045 and half of them are expected to need workforce housing.
Now is the time to prepare for smart, coordinated, planned and strategic growth. We need to think about the best use of land, existing infrastructure and roads. We need to get comfortable with well-designed communities that allow for life in closer proximity to each other, jobs centers and services.
If we don’t start this work now, if we don’t account for the continued growth before the next 10,000 or 100,000 people arrive, the quality of life that we all enjoy today will be at risk. Northwest Arkansas has always been able to hang its hat on affordability. Losing that reputation will also affect the region’s ability to attract and retain talent.
Workers coming to the region will find somewhere to live, but the impact of them living away from from central business districts will have a much greater impact on current residents if we don’t take collective action now.
For more information on the workforce housing center, visit nwacouncil.org/housing