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Affordable housing grant rejected in Fayetteville

Ward 1 councilmember D'Andre Jones held a town hall just last week for residents to make their voices heard.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Fayetteville City Council member Sarah Moore led the charge in a resolution to urge the mayor and the city's development services to submit a grant application to the Federal Pathways to Removing Obstacles to Housing program. 

If this resolution had been approved, the city would have applied for a $4 million affordable housing grant.

“It's the opportunity to remove barriers that have been in place, historically, for jurisdictions ... [the obstacles] leave under-served populations without appropriate housing," said Moore.

Moore brought the issue to the Fayetteville City Council on Sept. 19., Many supporters of the grant came to the meeting and shared their personal experiences during public comment.

“They feel the housing crisis that is happening all over the nation, and that is why the federal government has made this money available. Because these people are struggling, and they are here to have their voice heard," said Landon Skouras, a volunteer for Arkansas Renters United

If the resolution had passed, the city would've had six weeks to put together an application for the grant. This was concerning to some city officials and councilmembers who cited short staffing, and worries about who would be fit to put together a plan on such short notice, which they say would've taken time from other projects in the works.

“We wish things were different, and 7% interest rates are saying we can have any land use that we want, but if a developer cannot go to the bank and borrow, and can not acquire land for 20% of the cost of their project, then they’re going to be unable to develop anything that is going to meet anyone’s definition of affordable,” said Mike Wiederkehr, Ward 2 City Council member. 

Some council members didn't see the hurt in trying, and even offered up their own time. 

“There are people here tonight that have committed to help in any way that they can to at least make the application. If we don’t win, what have we lost? But if we win, what have we gained?” said Ward 1 Fayetteville City Council member D'Andre Jones. 

Ultimately the council voted 4 to 3 with the mayor refusing to vote which means the resolution did not get passed, and the city will not apply for the grant. 

The week before, Jones hosted a town hall to address the lack of obtainable and affordable housing in the city. Jones said this isn't just a Ward 1 problem or even a Fayetteville problem, but a nationwide problem. He plans to use comments from citizens to declare a housing crisis in Fayetteville. 

“I believe that this is a crisis in Fayetteville, many individuals are being impacted. So tonight, I do believe that it's time to have a conversation with the community, regarding their concerns" said Jones. 

Jones invited a panel of people impacted by housing troubles to share their experiences, “We have a few people who are members of what I call stakeholder groups: individuals and groups who specialize in affordable housing." 

This was the first out of three meetings Jones plans to hold on the topic, “The follow-up will include developing a strategy on what to do after hearing the conversations tonight," said Jones.

This has impacted Sonia Harvey, a former Ward 1 council member who had to resign because she could not find adequate housing for herself and her family in Ward 1.

“We have to lean into the community to really understand what's happening in order for us to provide a solution to this crisis," said Jones. “When you reach from the bottom, everyone in our community rises, and I want the people of Ward 1  to know that they can depend on their leadership to step in and do what leaders do."

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