Mayor’s task force considers housing solutions

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Mayor’s Task Force on Economic Development met on Wednesday, Oct. 13, to discuss the affordable housing issue in Eureka Springs.

Mayor Butch Berry said the task force is primarily focused on economic development and didn’t meet for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the first meeting since that break, Berry said, the task force discovered a citywide issue with the availability of affordable housing.

“Which comes first, housing or business?” Berry asked. “You can’t have new business without housing and you can’t have housing without new business.”

Butch Berry

Berry said one of the task force’s priorities is affordable housing, and it’s proving to be expensive.

“Where we’re having issues is getting workers and housing for the workers,” Berry said. “A lot of them are commuting from as far away as Bentonville, Fayetteville, Green Forest and Harrison.”

Sandy Martin recalled Jim Nelson’s comments on container homes at the previous task force meeting, saying she researched “everything you want to know” about container homes.

“They’re cheap. They’re fast to build,” Martin said.

Martin said the task force considered building “some kind of manufacturing plant” in the city, similar to the Connect 4 program, which brings together Green Forest, Berryville and Eureka Springs students to learn trade skills. Martin said the task force has talked about utilizing tiny homes to solve the housing crisis, but it’s not so easy as building the homes.

“You not only have a housing problem,” Martin said. “You have a land issue and a developer issue and you have a workforce issue.”

Martin suggested looking for grants or public-private partnerships to create the proposed manufacturing trade school, “so we can … solve our own problems.” The city works closely with the Carroll County Collaborative, Martin said, and has seen progress on affordable housing.

“It’s been predominantly in Green Forest and Berryville,” Martin said. “We were making a little bit of progress in Holiday Island. Then the city thing changed … so that’s kind of different.”

Another prospect from the Carroll County Collaborative, Martin said, is the Carroll County internet program. Martin said the program aims to install fiber-optic wireless internet throughout the county.

“As you know, that’s critical. That’s right up there with water and sewer, so those efforts are underway to try to build the infrastructure,” Martin said.

Kent Turner said lots of federal funding is available and Berry said the city is looking into that. A proposed engineering grant is “pretty much guaranteed” to be approved, Berry said, which would provide the funding for installation of the wireless internet.

Nelson moved the conversation toward container homes, saying there are programs throughout the country to build container home communities. Those communities are similar to ECHO Village, Nelson said.

“They’ve got several hundred of these units and they’re expanding,” Nelson said.

Berry said the city of Little Rock completed a housing project with the help of the University of Arkansas’s architectural department. One major problem for Eureka Springs, Berry said, is the definitions of tiny homes, container homes and modular homes.

“Our zoning ordinance has issues in there. They’re getting whole new definitions out there than what used to be,” Berry said. “Probably about 15 years ago … trailer manufacturers didn’t like the words ‘trailers’ or ‘mobile homes’ so they changed it to ‘modular homes.’ At that time, it wasn’t a big deal, but today it’s impacting us, because we have tiny homes and we have all sorts of small … homes.”

Martin said it would be great if a benefactor would donate land for an affordable housing project for a $1 annual lease.

“We’re in that mixed bag that we need rentals almost more than we need ownership because of our workforce,” Martin said.

Turner said there’s still a problem with utilities. Each container home would require a wastewater system, Turner said, and that’s expensive. Autumn Slane asked how an affordable housing project would be funded and Martin said it would have to be funded privately through a public-private partnership. Martin said she has spoken with developers about the idea.

“They’re basically looking for tax incentives. They’re looking for things like that,” Martin said.

Berry suggested meeting as a group once more before creating a subcommittee to completely focus on affordable housing. A city representative would work with that subcommittee, Berry said, similar to the way the task force operates. In the meantime, Berry said, he’d like everyone to work on coming up with an estimated cost on land requirements for 80 units of housing.

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  • First off no disrespect intended here...

    As to cargo containers being cheap. THEY ARE VERY SCARCE right now number one. Number two they were never anything more than an a way to build "artistic" architecturally styled homes, very costly. Cranes, welders, special fabrication and just lots of crazy stuff. Way over the top.A box, nothing more. No insulation, no wiring, not nothing. Now a few people did self convert them into livable spaces, but not cheap and pretty rough looking.

    Tiny Homes were pretty much a fad. Folks sizing down. Recently single and alone for whatever reason. More of a one person type gig. Many changed their minds after a while. Certainly nothing for a family or even really a couple.

    Then on to the utilities, just too much. Just too much.

    Hotel conversions. Now that is a show stopper there. Have you ever been a landlord? Ever? I have and will never be again. Besides with all the giveaway money and programs at the moment all a person would have to do is stop paying rent and that's that. Period!

    The only sound mind in the bunch. "Nobody with any land is just out of the goodness of their heart going to donate enough land." Paraphrasing here.

    That idea is nothing more then some of that "well I'm entitled" BS. Very big problem in the country at the moment.

    With as jobs in NW Arkansas available why would a person want to drive back and forth over here to work in some low pay service job?

    Stop watching old TV shows

    -- Posted by Two6pac on Mon, Oct 25, 2021, at 12:00 PM
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