UPDATED: Confusion over competing housing resolutions stalls decision

(Flyer photo, file)

A three-hour discussion on how to continue addressing affordable housing led to so much confusion on Tuesday that the decision was put on hold until next month.

With a packed agenda still looming, and no clear direction in sight, City Council members agreed to table two competing resolutions and let the city attorney’s office try and make sense of the situation.

The first of the two resolutions was brought forward by council members D’Andre Jones and Sarah Moore, who said they agreed to sponsor a proposal written by a group called the Fayetteville Housing Action Coalition, which is made up of residents and led by representatives from Arkansas Renters United, Circles NWA and New Beginnings.

The group’s idea was for the city to declare a housing crisis in Fayetteville, and call for the formation of a task force and a new city employee whose job would be to coordinate efforts toward creating more affordable housing. The eight-part document directed city staff to make several pledges and commitments, including forming regional partnerships, establishing metrics, asking lawmakers for additional funding, and advertising the resolution to mobilize support.

Shortly after that proposal was unveiled, Councilmember Mike Wiederkehr began drafting a competing resolution that he said was less focused on the emotional appeal of battling housing insecurity and more productive in nature. Wiederkehr’s proposal lists the city’s current and past initiatives to address affordable housing, which is something he said the original resolution seemed to ignore and could be interpreted as condescending to city staff’s existing efforts. It also proposes increased developer fees to pay the salary of a new employee such as an engineer, a deputy of development services, a planner or an inspector.

Tuesday’s discussion began with an attempt from Jones to blend some of Wiederkehr’s ideas into the original resolution, including an amendment acknowledging the city’s past and current efforts.

Before those suggestions were fully discussed, Councilmember Bob Stafford said he had three potential amendments. Like Jones, he offered to add the city’s accomplishments to the resolution. He also proposed removing the request to hire a housing coordinator and instead commit to hiring staff as needed sometime in the future. A third amendment would’ve removed the creation of a task force, and instead state that the city should identify tasks that can be taken on by the Community Development and Assistance Programs Advisory Board and the Public Facilities Board and roles they can play in addressing housing needs in Fayetteville.

Stafford later withdrew the task force swap amendment because he said some council members had expressed frustration over that idea.

About 30 people spoke during public comment, many who told stories of their own challenges in finding an affordable place to live in the city.

Almost all spoke in favor of the original resolution or some combination of it and Wiederkehr’s proposal. One person said they want to see some action taken, but they’re concerned that adding a new task force might complicate the work of the Community Development and Assistance Programs Advisory Board and the Public Facilities Board, both of which already receive HUD funding to address affordable housing.

Once it became clear that the council was amenable to merging the two resolutions into one, Wiederkehr offered to table his proposal to focus on formulating a combined resolution. That motion passed 8-0.

However, with three versions still up for discussion – the original version, Jones’ amended version and Stafford’s version – council members began to show frustration and several openly admitted to being thoroughly confused at times.

Senior Assistant City Attorney Blake Pennington said there were several options the council could choose to move forward. He said the council could continue debating the issue on Tuesday until an agreement was met or it could schedule a workshop to merge the two resolutions.

The group instead asked Pennington to draft his own version of a combined proposal taking Tuesday’s discussion into consideration. Pennington agreed, and said he’d make sure to highlight areas where the combined ideas overlap.

UPDATE: The City Council has since scheduled a workshop session for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26 at City Hall to develop a consolidated resolution. The meeting is open to the public, but will not include public comment. A live stream will be available.

The discussion ended with a 7-1 vote to table the original resolution until the next meeting on April 2. Moore voted against stalling the process, and said she’d prefer the details of a combined proposal be ironed out in public.