Affordable housing, efficient transportation part of Northwest Arkansas Council focus

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,784 views 

Northwest Arkansas needs more affordable housing if it is going to continue a growth trajectory to 1 million people by 2045. The Northwest Arkansas Council made housing a priority late last year by forming the workforce housing center, led by Duke McLarty.

McLarty took part in a panel discussion at Friday’s (Feb. 25) Northwest Arkansas Council meeting to discuss some of the housing issues the region faces and the importance of affordable housing solutions to keeping and retaining workforce talent. McClarty said the region will need 80,000 new household units by 2040 as the population is expected to double by 2045.

“We have to get ahead of this housing crunch. We are well-positioned to solve this housing crisis once and for all,” McClarty said.

McLarty said home is where families celebrate birthdays and grieve lost loved ones. He said it’s where homework and movie nights happen and where most of our authentic living happens.  He said the region is missing enough affordable single-family homes and multifamily housing and his work is to find ways to bridge the gaps so commute times are less and quality of life is improved for those needing affordable housing.

Monique Pierre, CEO of Partnership For Better Housing in Fayetteville and panel participant, said there is a project in Fayetteville that is a shared partnership/pay it forward model. The organization works with partners to help families afford housing with an equity investment that reduces the cost. She said the buyer agrees to pay that equity on to the next buyer who purchased their home when they sell. This model allows families to live in neighborhoods they could not otherwise afford.

Tina Castro, co-founder of Avivar Capital, also took part in the discussion. Her firm works with communities to establish financing options that support affordable housing initiatives. Based in Los Angeles, Castro said the Greater Cincinnati Foundation made a $1 million investment and partnered with a Community Development Financial Institution to help grow the fund, which is now valued at $13 million. She said the Foundation is now financing its first 600 multifamily units in the city for lower-income families. Castro said there are several ways communities can work together to help solve affordable housing challenges and her firm works with them to move their effort forward.

Todd Simmons, CEO of Siloam Springs-based Simmons Foods, said it’s crucial for employers of all sizes in recruiting and retaining talent needed to run the businesses.

“We have leaned in where we can to help with things like guaranteeing minimum occupancy for new apartment developments for a period of time. We have had a ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality in the past about expansion and it’s become important for us to take a larger role in making sure the workforce we need has an affordable housing option,” he said.

Tony Aquila, chairman and CEO at Canoo Inc., also spoke at the meeting about his plans to locate his business in Northwest Arkansas. He said the primary production facility is being built in Pryor, Okla., and that is where it will make Canoo electric cars. Production is on track to begin by the end of this year.

Aquila said he chose to relocate his company from California to the region because of the visionary, entrepreneurial roots in Arkansas and the strength, resilience and support of the Cherokee Nation in eastern Oklahoma. He said the entire vehicle has been reconfigured to be lighter with just 70 moving parts weighing a total of 200 pounds. He said Canoo is breaking all the rules and building vehicles for people that are sustainable and efficient.

Canoo is also planning a manufacturing operation inside a 260,000-square-foot building at 4700 S.W. Regional Airport Boulevard in Bentonville. He said families who choose electric vehicles will see $400 more in their pockets each year related to fuel and maintenance savings.

Canoo is targeting approximately $100 million in vehicle orders with the states and universities where the company is locating the facilities. Canoo has approximately 800 employees with offices in California, Michigan, Minnesota and Texas. The company says its unique design delivers the interior space of a large SUV atop the footprint of a compact car.

The Northwest Arkansas Council also celebrated 10 years of Crystal Bridges with a report from Director Rod Bigelow who said the museum has hosted 6 million visitors in the first 10 years and 500,000 people have used the trails around the museum campus.