Emergency Rental Assistance
In 2021 and 2022, I voted in favor of a new Washington County program providing a total of $12 Million in Emergency Rental Assistance to county residents impacted by the pandemic. The program was initially run through the Fayetteville Housing Authority and the Springdale Housing Authority, and later by the county itself. I worked closely with the folks at the Fayetteville Housing Authority to help them get information and resources to get their program off the ground and make it a success.
According to the rules set by the Treasury Department, 90% of the money was used for direct rental assistance.
In April 2022, unfortunately, the Quorum Court stopped funding the program.
The Rising Cost of Housing
Because of the rising cost of housing in Fayetteville, many folks are being forced to move out of the city. They're moving where rents and home prices are less expensive, to places like Prairie Grove, Elkins and beyond. This puts more pressure on our roads, infrastructure and county green spaces and farmland. I'd like to see the county work together with cities to help solve our regional housing crisis.
We also need to educate more property owners about the benefits of accepting vouchers, so they can be used in more places. Those benefits include having vetted tenants, receiving direct deposit payments, and low delinquency rates.
Ending homelessness is also a priority. District 12 has the majority of the homeless population in Washington County. The 2020 Criminal Justice Assessment addressed how homelessness and the county's criminal justice system are deeply intertwined.
The Worst Renter Laws in the Nation
It's no secret that Arkansas has the worst landlord-tenant laws in the nation. It is the only state in the US where tenants are treated as criminals for paying rent late. Every other state in the nation handles this matter in civil court. For too long, it was also the only state in the US where landlords were not required by law to maintain their properties. Most landlords do the right thing, but for the few who don't, our laws make it almost impossible for their tenants to address legitimate issues. We still need standards in place to stop abuse, just like in 49 other states. Because of this, Arkansas has been labeled "The Worst Place to Rent in America":
Washington County Habitability
My predecessor, JP Sue Madison, wrote a habitability ordinance for Washington County in late 2020. I grabbed the baton and signed on as co-sponsor in January 2021 after she retired from office and I was sworn in. You can read the entire ordinance here.
We're talking about basic things like working smoke alarms, working doors and windows, electricity, water, and heating. This ordinance would have prevented more unnecessary injuries, health issues, and deaths.
We have had more than one fire in Washington County where children died.
This ordinance would have also helped expand the number of units where Housing Authority vouchers - Housing Choice Vouchers - can be used. HUD DOES have minimum habitability standards, and because the state of Arkansas doesn't, that limits the number of units that can accept vouchers.
Unfortunately, Republicans on the Washington County Quorum court shot down the local ordinance on a party-line vote.
Thankfully, in early 2021, the Arkansas legislature finally passed a bare minimum Habitability Ordinance after years of delays and stonewalling. However, advocates say this new statewide law still contains many flaws, and much more must be done to match our neighboring states.