By: Duke McLarty, Executive Director
December marked one year since I made the exciting move to lead the Northwest Arkansas workforce housing center. This past year has been an incredible learning experience and provided an amazing opportunity to work with dynamic community leaders, developers, bankers and planners. It’s also given me a better understanding of region’s most pressing needs and reinforced my pride in what makes Northwest Arkansas such a wonderful place to call home.
The problem is clear:
Northwest Arkansas needs more housing. And not just any type of housing, it needs housing for the vital workforce who make the region thrive. Housing is needed for those who teach our children, who treat our sick and who comfort our elderly. More housing is needed near the region’s vibrant city centers to reduce commute times and traffic and congestion.
Creating housing optionality is the workforce housing center’s guiding principle throughout 2023 and beyond. This means advocating for housing inclusivity and ensuring equal access in all areas while, at the same time, preserving the charm and character of each community.
The good news is we are not going at this alone. Housing attainability is one of the highest priorities for local business leaders, elected officials and residents, who feel the effects of the housing crunch every day.
The region’s population is projected to nearly double in the next 20 years. Leaders and planners should think beyond individual cities and collaborate on a vision and regional plan that can shape the future and provide plans for long-term housing attainability.
The past year has been about capacity building and laying the groundwork for important partnerships and collaborations that will move the work forward. A key component for future success is effective communication. To inform this strategy, the center held several community listening sessions to help frame the messaging to make a compelling case for the importance of the work for stakeholders.
And last fall, Isabel Gamarra joined as the center’s director of communications and advocacy and will use the messaging strategy to develop comprehensive branding, website, newsletter and outreach campaigns that will roll out in the coming months.
Finally, the center has taken initial steps to establish a housing fund that will give us the ability to invest directly in new developments in the region.
Now, the real work begins
One of the primary obstacles to new development in the region is legacy zoning codes that date back to the 1960s. This code constrains the type and location of residential development, limits the amount of housing that can be developed and is complex, making it difficult to navigate. Over the years, municipalities have made significant progress revising these dated codes, but there is more work to do. Regulation consistency across the region and allowing for more types of development in more areas will create a more healthy, vibrant and inclusive Northwest Arkansas for years to come.
The workforce housing center team is inspired by the energy and support from the community and excited to see what the next year will bring. Be on the lookout for upcoming announcements on how you can get involved and provide your voice to this important conversation.
Learn more at nwacouncil.org/housing