Excellerate Foundation creates affordable housing affiliate

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,046 views 

Rogers-based Excellerate Foundation has established a subsidiary focused on offering more affordable housing to low-income families in Northwest Arkansas, according to a Monday (Aug. 7) news release.

Excellerate Housing LLC “will provide affordable housing to low-income families in diverse, inclusive environments with additional services and resources that will help them thrive,” the release said. The subsidiary is expected to be a “new tool” to address housing affordability challenges in Northwest Arkansas.

Jeff Webster, president and CEO of Excellerate Foundation, explained the need for the grant-making foundation to start an operating entity that’s dedicated to its strategic pillar of housing.

“It’s a division for us to centralize and better communicate our work in and around this space of building affordable communities,” said Webster, noting that the foundation’s other operating entities, Hark NWA and Upskill NWA, are dedicated to the foundation’s strategic pillars on social support and education, respectively.

“The affordable housing crisis has been with us for years, but it continues to intensify in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, historic inflation and a population growth rate that shows no signs of slowing down,” Webster said. “Excellerate Housing will help those who have been hit the hardest by the lack of affordable housing, especially the region’s ALICE (asset limited, income constrained, employed) population.”

Existing Excellerate Foundation staff are serving in the necessary roles for Excellerate Housing, said Webster, adding that the foundation plans to hire a dedicated person for the new subsidiary soon.

According to the release, the subsidiary is the culmination of six years of ongoing work by the foundation to develop affordable housing in Northwest Arkansas.

“When we first adopted housing as one of our program pillars, there wasn’t a lot of attention given to the issue,” said Henry Ho, board chair of Excellerate Foundation. “But a study funded by Walton Family Foundation in 2019 shined a spotlight on the housing crisis, which had been an almost invisible problem to many of those in the community.”

The Our Housing Future study shows that “failure to act could result in widespread instability, including job losses, increased poverty and rising numbers of homeless individuals and families.” Nearly 80,000 families are projected to move to the four largest cities in Northwest Arkansas by 2040. By then, to accommodate area growth, half of the new homes must serve the workforce and lowest-income households. The previous comprised a family of four earning $33,000 to $78,000 and the latter, a family of four earning less than $33,000.

“It was a call to action,” Ho said. “And Excellerate did not hesitate to pick up the baton on behalf of lower-income families across the region.”

Excellerate Foundation helped to bring about the Cobblestone Farm Community that’s expected to open later this year in west Fayetteville. The development, largely comprising duplexes, will serve nearly 100 families in one- to four-bedroom units, with rent ranging between $325 and $625 monthly. The rent price is protected for 35 years.

In 2021, Excellerate Foundation led the creation of the NWA Regional Fund, through which area banks have invested more than $40 million in equity to support five new affordable housing projects in Northwest Arkansas. The fund supported 345 new rental units for lower-income families, and the average rent will be 49% below the existing market rate. This is expected to provide $65 million in rental savings for these families over the next 35 years.

“In 50 years of operation, we have seen only two other states that have been able to put together a regional fund like this one,” said Christine Cormier in 2021, who’s executive vice president – fund management and investor relations for WNC, which structured the fund’s tax credit syndicate. “Arkansas now joins this elite group.”

In 2022, Webster joined the city of Bentonville’s Housing Affordability Workgroup as chairman. The group spent a year finding ways to encourage developers to build affordable housing, and the work resulted in recommendations for developer incentives and process improvements, called Project Arrow. The city has since started to implement Project Arrow after Bentonville City Council approved the recommendations in January.

Recently, Benton and Washington counties provided Excellerate Foundation a combined $4.1 million in Energy Rental Assistance funding to use toward affordable housing projects.

Excellerate Foundation’s work to address area challenges led the Council on Foundations and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to honor the foundation with the 2023 HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships.