Walton Family Foundation Recommends Changes to Solve Northwest Arkansas Housing Crunch

Walton Family Foundation Recommends Changes to Solve Northwest Arkansas Housing Crunch
A residential development in northwest Arkansas. The Walton Family Foundation has issued recommendations for addressing a housing crunch in the region. (Shutterstock)

The Walton Family Foundation on Thursday released a new study recommending several measures including zoning code changes to address the housing crunch in northwest Arkansas. 

The average sale price for a home in northwest Arkansas has increased by 44.2% in the past five years, according to the most recent Skyline Report by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business.

A separate report published by the Walton Family Foundation in 2019 painted a bleak picture for workers who earned minimum wage or less and their hopes of finding an affordable place to live. The area has a population of more than 500,000 now with experts predicting that to reach more than 600,000 in two years.

The nonprofit foundation, led by members of the founding family of Walmart Inc. of Bentonville, issued seven recommendations for the region’s housing situation:

  • A regional approach that allows the municipalities in the area to develop a comprehensive policy for housing.
  • Encourage developments to balance housing and transportation costs.
  • Work with public and private companies and nonprofits to create an affordable housing strategy for the region.
  • Educate the public about the state of housing, which will encourage support for a comprehensive strategies.
  • Provide more resources for inspection, planning and community development staff.
  • Reform zoning codes to allow more efficient review of developmental plans and lower administrative costs and to allow more diverse planning.

The foundation used a research team led by Smart Growth America, a nonprofit housing consulting firm in Washington D.C. The report showed that the high costs of land is the main cause of the affordable housing crunch. 

Land is more affordable in the outlying areas and suburbs of northwest Arkansas’ four main cities, but the developments built there, while affordable, do not provide the needed density and raise the cost of living because of commute times.

“With this report as a roadmap, northwest Arkansas has the opportunity — and the drive — to develop a comprehensive regional housing strategy,” said Jeremy Pate, the foundation’s Home Region senior program officer. “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.”