Council holds firm on housing coordinator position

(Flyer photo, file)

FAYETTEVILLE — A third attempt at requiring the mayor to hire a full-time housing coordinator was denied by the City Council on Tuesday.

Council members voted down a proposal from sponsor Sarah Moore that would’ve created a new position to oversee and coordinate housing-related initiatives and activities identified by a soon-to-be-formed task force.

The idea was first proposed in March when Moore and D’Andre Jones brought forward a resolution to declare a crisis, hire a housing coordinator and form a task force to address housing insecurity. A competing resolution, drafted by Mike Wiederkehr and co-sponsored by Scott Berna, Sarah Bunch, Holly Hertzberg and Teresa Turk, listed the city’s current and past initiatives, which Wiederkehr said the other resolution seemed to ignore. Wiederkehr’s proposal also would’ve increased developer fees to pay for a possible new engineer, deputy of development services, planner or housing inspector.

During a later workshop session, council members agreed to combine parts of the two resolutions into a new proposal, which included the formation of a housing task force, but instead of requiring the mayor to create a new staff position, the new resolution called for hiring people only as necessary to expedite the approval of new housing projects.

Shortly before the council voted on that combined resolution on April 2, Moore motioned to amend the proposal to place the hiring of a coordinator back into the language. That motion, however, failed with only Moore and Jones voting in support.

This week’s discussion marked the third try at requiring the new position.

Moore on Tuesday brought forward a resolution to establish a new full-time equivalent staff member who would assist and support the task force, develop and implement strategies to address housing challenges, and serve as a liaison to community organizations, among a list of other tasks and responsibilities. She proposed using $90,000 of the nearly $100,000 in American Rescue Plan Act money that the city has left over from the $17.9 million it received.

During the discussion, Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said using ARPA funds for the new position would be tricky because the city needs to spend the money by the end of 2024 to keep from having to return it to the federal government. Since staff salaries are spread throughout the year, Becker said a new funding source would need to be identified to continue paying the coordinator starting in January.

Four residents spoke in favor of the proposal, but after public comment was closed, in a signal of frustration, Berna moved to end the discussion and immediately vote on the proposal. That motion failed 4-4 with Moore, Bunch, Stafford and Jones voting against. So the discussion continued.

Jones said he’s been in favor of hiring a coordinator since the beginning, and would continue to support the idea.

Wiederkehr said removing the hiring of a coordinator was part of the compromise the council made to pass the housing resolution two weeks ago, so it didn’t seem procedurally appropriate to immediately come back and ask to recoup something that was compromised in the previous negotiations. He said if the task force recommends hiring a coordinator, he’d be more inclined to support the idea at that time.

Turk agreed with Wiederkehr and said she didn’t think the resolution would’ve passed at all without removing the requirement to hire a coordinator.

“I kind of feel like it was a little bit of a bait and switch,” said Turk, who added that she’d prefer to give the task force a chance to make recommendations before going back on the council’s agreement.

Bunch said after hearing about the deadline to spend ARPA funds by the end of the year, she wasn’t sure experimenting with a new staff member position was the best use of the remaining funds. Berna agreed.

The group eventually voted 3-5, effectively denying the proposal. Moore, Jones and Bob Stafford were in support, while Berna, Bunch, Hertzberg, Turk and Wiederkehr voted against.

Before the vote, Mayor Lioneld Jordan said he also thought the hiring decision had already been made so he wouldn’t support the resolution if the vote came to a tie.

Jordan also told the council that 50 people have applied to join the new task force and said he’ll need some time to read all the applications and appoint the new members.