Economic development committee considers creating nonprofit

Thursday, November 18, 2021
File photo

Mayor Butch Berry met with the city’s economic development committee on Wednesday, Nov. 10, to discuss how to move forward with establishing affordable housing in Eureka Springs, and the group considered creating a nonprofit organization as the next step in the process.

Committee member Sandy Martin said she researched nonprofit models for affordable housing since the committee’s last meeting. Many of the models look like the ECHO Village model, Martin said, but she was most intrigued by the community land trust model. Martin said that model “looks more flexible than a specific nonprofit.”

“The other option is a traditional nonprofit where we set up our bylaws,” Martin said.

Butch Berry

Martin said it would cost between $1,000 and $4,000 to set up a nonprofit, and she’s not sure if the organization would need to be a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(6).

Committee member Kimberly Clark said the Arkansas Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is ready to develop affordable housing throughout the state. If you make less than $45,000 a year and have a credit rating above 650, Clark said, you easily quality for a HUD program.

“It’s up to the city to do it. It’s up to the housing authority,” Clark said.

Martin said affordable housing is necessary for the city’s industry to grow. Martin said rent-to-own or lease-to-own programs can be helpful. The benefit of a land trust, Martin said, is that you always have control of the land.

“We’re talking about different levels of development, because we need the kind of workers for economic development,” Martin said, adding that the Carroll County broadband program should bring internet to everyone in the county in the near future. “We’ll get that solved pretty much by the end of next year.”

“It’s time to act and not talk any longer,” Clark said.

Clark said she’s worked on affordable housing since 1977 when she moved to Eureka Springs. Back then, Clark said, the poverty rate was 17 percent.

“It’s now a 32-percent poverty rate. We have a lot of people with special needs in Eureka and we must address that,” Clark said. “We have elderly who have needs in Eureka. We can’t just do this for the workers at the shops. It cannot be that way. It just cannot be that way.”

Clark added, “We’ve got to strategize about it and we’ve got to include the people that are needy and we’ve got to demonstrate that we can do something.”

Martin said that’s what the committee is there to do. The next step, Martin said, is putting a funding package together and finding the need in the community. Clark said the funding is already there.

“If it’s all there, why isn’t it being done?” Berry asked.

“Because it takes a combination of the city government …” Clark said.

“What does the city government need to do?” Berry asked.

“They have to be part of the application for either donating the land or putting up something … like you did at ECHO,” Clark said. “There has to be a partnership between the government, the private sector and the homeowner.”

Turner said the difficulty with developing affordable housing is finding land to build it on.

“We keep running into a brick wall when we search for a suitable building area around here that doesn’t cost us an arm and a leg,” Turner said. “That’s the problem.”

Martin said the committee is in the process of identifying available land and talking with landowners. The hope, Martin said, is to show a commitment to affordable housing that will bring in partners to support the project.

Historic preservation officer Kylee Hevrdejs said she reached out to city planners in Centerton about two high-density affordable housing projects there. The projects are privately funded, Hevrdejs said, but she had a major takeaway from the research.

“As you start exploring potential lots, don’t overlook really small lots, because one of theirs has 10 units on 0.89 acres and it’s awesome,” Hevrdejs said.

Hevrdejs added that she explored the concept of container homes and discovered they are not as ecologically friendly as some are led to believe.

“A lot of times, used containers are beat up. They have chemicals in them and they’re not suitable for housing,” Hevrdejs said. “Then shipping them inland … since we’re in Arkansas, you have a big carbon footprint getting them here. A lot of folks end up buying new, so the reuse aspect isn’t really there and once you insulate them, the living space inside is decreased to such an extent.”

Turner suggested looking into tax deductions for developers and Berry said it would be good to check on tax credits, too. Martin said she would work on putting together information on the tax incentives for the next committee meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15, in the community room at Equity Bank.

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