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What officials are doing about the lack of affordable housing in Arkansas

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there's still a shortage of 55,000 affordable and available rental homes in Arkansas.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Back in November, we brought you a story about the divide within our state's housing market.

While talking with experts about the issue something else kept coming up in conversations— the dire need for more affordable housing in Arkansas. 

Affordable housing is a bigger issue than many people realize. 

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there's a shortage of more than 7 million affordable homes for the country's nearly 11 million extremely low-income families. 

This struggle is something that's impacted a lot of people right here in the Little Rock area, like Kathryn Miller.

"The mental toll that it takes to not have your own place is... unless you've experienced it, you really can't understand," she said.

Miller knows that feeling all too well.

"I entered the Dorcas House, February of 2020. Right before the pandemic and for drug and alcohol rehab," she said.

After Miller took steps to turn her life around, she soon ran into another challenge, finding a place to call her own.

"It was a little difficult to find something that I felt like was safe and affordable," she said.

Miller applied for city housing, but the waitlist was so long, she didn't hear anything back in over a year. 

After months of searching, Miller finally found a home that fit her budget, but she knows she's one of the lucky ones.

"It's so important for people who are coming from recovery, people trying to better their life to be able to have that not be one stress that they can't afford their own house," she said.

It's stress felt by many people right here in central Arkansas and an issue we've been dealing with for a while, according to UA Little Rock Associate Professor Brian Mitchell.

"I haven't been doing the research that I was a few years ago in housing, but we were already at a point of near crisis, then," he said.

That was nearly a decade ago when Mitchell really dug into the situation. 

His report shows exactly what Miller experienced, long and growing waiting lists with housing authorities.

"I would like to believe that people hearken the warning and actually put in some effort to try to get those lists whittled down," Mitchell said.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there's still a shortage of 55,000 affordable and available rental homes in Arkansas for the 107,000 people who need it.

"The need for affordable housing has outpaced the supply of available affordable housing," Mitchell said.

So what exactly is affordable housing?

Mitchell said to base it off the numbers. A family should pay below 30% of their household budget. 

If you look at the median income in Arkansas, according to the US Census Bureau 2019, it's just under $26,000 a year. 

This means, according to Mitchell, rent should be around $650 a month for a single person.

"If you're paying above 30%, a large portion of your income is going to housing and very little can go to other things," he said.

Good luck finding somewhere to live in that price range, though. 

According to Apartment List, rent in Little Rock went up nearly 10% last year, pushing the average rent for a one bedroom apartment to $735. 

"I don't know how and if new affordable housing can be built without intervention from the federal government," he said.

It's a problem Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. is aware of.

"Yes, affordable housing is a critical issue here in the City of Little Rock," he said.

Scott said he knows of his city's problem and it's something that's only getting worse as the capital city continues to grow.

"A lot of people want to move here, but the prices tend to be a bit higher, and so that's the reason why it's paramount that the City of Little Rock steps in and does our part to ensure that we have affordable housing," he said.

The city is already stepping in through things like the Save-A-Home Program, where existing homes undergo rehab and people receive assistance to live there. 

There are also Community Housing Development Organizations that the city partners with to build more affordable housing. 

That's just to name a couple though, according to Scott. 

"We also are purchasing homes and duplexes for those that are in the cycle of homelessness and we help them to exit that cycle by providing down payment assistance in duplexes here in the City of Little Rock," he said.

Most recently, the city purchased 18 vacant lots, like some in the John Barrow area. 

Scott said soon they will become single-family homes, where the city will provide down payment assistance of up to $5,000. 

It's a project he wants to see happen in other, similar areas.

"Those are still vacant lots in our neighborhoods, and many times what happens it creates crime centers. It also creates dangerous homeless encampments and so what we want to do is ensure that we have more infill development," Scott said.

While these are steps to help tackle a growing problem, experts said it will take much more to solve this crisis.

"It is a problem that affects more people than people understand and know and to be able to give people opportunity to have a home, to have a place, is a social problem that needs to be addressed," Miller said.

Scott said the houses built in the John Barrow area should be done by this summer. 

If you need additional resources on how to help with affordable housing, you can find them here


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