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Putting the "Fund" in AR's Housing Trust Fund

PHOTO: HUD recently awarded $4 million to Arkansas housing and service programs for the homeless, but a bill in the legislature would allocate the same amount of state funds for rent assistance and improvements to Arkansas' aging housing stock. Courtesy of HUD.
PHOTO: HUD recently awarded $4 million to Arkansas housing and service programs for the homeless, but a bill in the legislature would allocate the same amount of state funds for rent assistance and improvements to Arkansas' aging housing stock. Courtesy of HUD.
April 4, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - It may be time to put the "fund" into the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund. It has not yet received any state money in the four years since it was created. However, last week a bill passed the state Senate to allocate up to $4 million to the fund - $1 million for each congressional district. The money would be used to make improvements to older homes, give rental assistance to low-income Arkansans and spur construction of new affordable housing.

Rick Pierce, who serves on the steering committee for Housing Arkansas, said it can boost local jobs as well as improve Arkansas' aging housing stock.

"This money that the state basically invests will be leveraged several times over," he said. "Arkansas honestly could come in somewhere between three or four to one - for every dollar invested, you'd see three or four additional dollars put in."

Backers of the bill (HB 1061, SB 728) said it is important for the state to pitch in to help solve the housing shortage, especially since federal funds for housing programs have been cut 30 percent in the past two years. However, the legislation only makes the funds available if lawmakers can allocate money from the General Improvement Fund for the next fiscal year.

The need for more and better-quality housing in Arkansas has been well publicized: Three-quarters of the state's homes and apartments were built before 1980.

Lou Tobian, an Arkansas Housing Trust Fund advisory committee member, said there are two problems many Arkansans face: finding a place to live and being able to afford it.

"It's both," Tobian said. "Incomes are low and rental prices are high. And the amount of accessible, decent housing? There isn't enough to meet the needs of all the people who would want it."

According to Tobian, 44 percent of lower-income households and more than 50 percent of Arkansans over age 65 spend more than half of their monthly income on housing. It is a problem in both rural and urban areas, he added.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - AR