A recent study is offering actionable, policy-based recommendations, from capacity building to zoning reforms, to help Northwest Arkansas tackle its emerging housing challenges. Without action, it cautions the region’s current low-density, sprawling development patterns could cause long-term negative impacts for affordability, particularly for lower- and middle-income households.
“With this report as a roadmap, Northwest Arkansas has the opportunity—and the drive—to develop a comprehensive regional housing strategy,” said Jeremy Pate, a senior program officer with the Walton Family Foundation’s Home Region program. “By working together, communities can identify solutions that support each city’s needs—and build a more inclusive, vibrant and affordable region for all residents.”
The Walton Family Foundation commissioned a research team led by Smart Growth America to examine how the region’s housing capacity, market conditions and zoning policies are affecting supply and prices. The report cited high land costs as a leading factor driving the attainable housing shortage. It also highlighted a lack of adequate financial tools, incentives, production capacity and experience to build the necessary number of units and range of housing options to maintain an affordable cost of living. In addition, the report found inefficient policies and exclusionary development rules may be discouraging a more dense mix of commercial and residential development.
To address these issues, the report recommended Northwest Arkansas:
- Take a regional approach, with the public, private and nonprofit sectors working across municipal boundaries to implement cohesive, comprehensive housing policies.
- Balance housing and transportation to encourage developments in cost-effective, efficient locations to accommodate population growth, support new transit options and reduce households’ costs.
- Engage partners from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to create and implement a regional housing affordability strategy.
- Focus on education and outreach, including sharing data with the public about conditions, trends and policies affecting affordability, to better communicate the scale of the challenge and encourage support for a broad range of housing solutions.
- Build capacity by providing support and resources for municipal, inspection, local planning and community development staff; nonprofit and for-profit developers; public-private partnerships; community land trusts; and financial tools like capital subsidies.
- Reform zoning codes to encourage the development of more attainable housing, including expediting the review process; reducing municipal fees, lowering costs of off-site improvements; updating codes; adjusting parking requirements; reducing barriers to pedestrians and cyclists in suburban zones; exploring inclusionary housing requirements; and decreasing the number of zoning districts.
According to a biannual report from the University of Arkansas’s Center for Business and Economic Research, over the last five years average home prices in the region increased 44.2 percent and average multifamily leases rose by 26.4 percent. In March, the Northwest Arkansas Council launched a Workforce Housing Center with the foundation’s support to address housing needs and priorities. The center is focused on promoting development in proximity to employment centers, lifestyle amenities and services.