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Higher housing costs present challenges for some assistance programs

Fayetteville is the most competitive small-sized rental market for 2022, according to RentCafe.
Robert Linder
Increasing available affordable housing has been a focus for some organizations in the region.

Fayetteville's City Council passed a voluntary ordinance to include a registry of landlords accepting Section 8 housing assistance. This action was taken in part because some landlords are not renewing their contracts in Housing Choice Voucher Programs. This has made it more difficult for some tenants with vouchers to find housing.

Mitch Minnick, the executive director of Fort Smith’s Housing Authority, said there are a little over 1,500 vouchers under contract through the authority. He said typically, there is an ebb and flow on the landlord list because it’s voluntary and situations change for property owners.

“As far as landlords deciding not to accept Section 8 vouchers, that’s something that we have seen here in Sebastian County as well," Minnick said.

Overall, there is still a shortage of about 54,000 affordable rental units in Arkansas, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and a study from Rent.com found the state’s residential rent jumped almost 17% in 2022. He said the demand for rental units can be a deciding factor for landlords to not accept vouchers.

“The things that we have seen in speaking with some of our landlords that have chosen to stop participating in the housing voucher program is that they have sufficient demand right now for their units," Minnick said. "That they don’t need to participate in the program.”

He said another thing landlords must consider are the layers to qualify for the Section 8 housing program. These include yearly unit inspections through a third party to make sure the property maintains a level of habitability.

Although there were about 1,700 families on the authority’s wait list with a wait time of about 22 months, Minnick said that number is down from the waiting list pre-COVID-19 pandemic. He said wait times could range from 2-3 years before the pandemic.

Neil Gibson, the executive director of the Northwest Regional Housing Authority, said the organization has not experienced a loss of landlord participation.

“I know our housing authority has been down in the past years and COVID kind of slapped us in the face, but we’ve been recruiting landlords and we’ve actually got more vouchers this year than what we had last year," Gibson said. "Of the landlords we have, I’m not seeing them drop the voucher program.”

The regional authority offers rental programs covering Carroll and Madison County in the west, over to Baxter and Searcy County.

This year, Gibson said the authority does not have a wait list except processing time because it dedicated more vouchers than what is in use.

“But still one of the problems in this area as everyone knows is there’s not enough housing to start with. And we do have people on the street with vouchers looking for a place to live ‘cause it’s hard to find one.”

In addition to the housing shortage, Joyce Hunnicutt, executive director of the Springdale Housing Authority, points out another obstacle. She said some new landlords might remodel or potentially demolish existing buildings.

Hunnicutt said landlords usually provide notice that they do not wish to participate in the housing voucher program around the time contracts need to be renewed.

“So, say a person's supposed to renew in August, they may come to them and may and be like, ‘We're not going to renew with you so, you know, you'll need to be out by August 1,'" Hunnicutt said. "And then that person would typically let us know, and we would issue them a voucher for them to go out and find another housing unit.”

Hunnicutt said there are misconceptions about the Section 8 housing program and the people involved. She said some people cannot work, have a fixed income or need support securing safe and sanitary housing. Because of the region’s growth, Hunnicutt said she doesn’t expect the impact of the rising costs of living to end soon.

“So, what we’re hoping to see is more affordable housing solutions come up with others, you know, possibly partnering in the future, or other people that are building tax credit units," Hunnicutt said. "I know there are several in the area that are coming up around – that’s good to see.”

And for Minnick, he said there remains an interest from landlords to participate in the Section 8 housing program, but he has noticed a trend in the past couple of years.

“I would say for the last at least two years it has been more heavily weighted towards landlords stopping their participation in the program," Minnick said. We do still have new landlords that are coming on, but landlords leaving the program have outweighed that over the past two years. And to try and combat that, we have been looking at expanding the number of housing authority-owned properties that we have.”

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Anna Pope is KUAF's growth impact reporter and a Report for America corps member
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