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March 2, 2009

LITTLE ROCK, ARK.-Housing Arkansas, a coalition of affordable housing advocates in the private, government and nonprofit sectors, held a news conference today to highlight legislation that would create a statewide housing trust fund for Arkansas. The trust fund would allow access to quality housing for a broad range of Arkansans.

Senate Majority Leader Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, is the lead Senate sponsor of SB396. The bill would establish the organizational framework of the housing trust fund, which is a vehicle to distribute a dedicated source of public revenue to address the affordable housing needs of a community. Arkansas is one of just 12 states without a state housing trust fund.

The legislation, Senate Bill 396, is expected to be presented this Thursday, March 5, to the Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee. The committee meets at 10 a.m. in Room 171 of the state Capitol.

During Monday’s news conference, held at the Old Supreme Court Room in the state Capitol, Sen. Elliott said that the current economic downturn should make establishing a state housing trust fund even more of a priority.

“Lack of access to adequate and affordable housing is much more than a housing issue; it’s also an educational, economic and public health issue,” Sen. Elliott said. “Thirty-eight of our 50 states operate housing trust funds, and Arkansas has a great opportunity this legislative session to become the 39th.”

Housing Arkansas Co-Chair Mike Leach, Director of Southern Good Faith Fund’s Public Policy Program, said SB396 is the product of inclusion and dialogue among many organizations. A complete list of organizations endorsing SB396 is included in the press kit, which also can be downloaded at

“Housing Arkansas brings together an unprecedented and wide-ranging coalition of key stakeholders on this issue: non-profit and for-profit developers, community development corporations, advocates for the elderly, disabled, homeless, and against domestic violence, local housing agencies, banks and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority,” Leach said. “Senate Bill 396 will empower our state to make decent, affordable housing a reality for many more Arkansans.”

In the current economic downturn, an increasing number of lower-income Arkansans struggle to afford housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other housing authorities recommend that families spend no more than one-third of their income on housing. The most recently available U.S. Census data shows that almost half of moderate-income families in Arkansas-for example, a family of four earning $40,000 a year or less-spend more than one-third of their income on housing.

Many Arkansans have troubles beyond just affording their rent or mortgage. The Arkansas Legislative Task Force to Study Homelessness reported that more than 20,000 Arkansans were homeless in 2008; almost 20 percent of them (4,300) were children.

Numerous studies demonstrate that low quality housing significantly diminishes the health and educational attainment of children. Children living in inadequate housing have increased hospitalization and respiratory infections, and school and residential changes can reduce the chances students will graduate by 50 percent.

A housing trust fund also can leverage additional investment in Arkansas communities. Each $1 in housing trust fund money leverages, on average, about $7 more in public and private housing money, according to a 2007 report from the Housing Trust Fund Project of the Center for Community Change of Frazier Park, Calif. Additionally, improved housing attracts other community revitalization investments.

Additionally, housing trust funds contribute to economic growth through increased housing production, employment, and tax revenues. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that in a typical U.S. metropolitan area, building 100 units generates up to 284 local jobs in the first year alone, $1.8 million in local tax revenue, and $16 million in local income.

The Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) will administer the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund. A Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee comprised of affordable housing developers, advocates and beneficiaries will work with ADFA staff to draft program rules, regulations, compliance issues and funding priorities. Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee recommendations will be submitted to the ADFA Board for final approval.

Under SB396, the Arkansas Housing Trust Fund will:

o Target families at or below 80 percent of the state or area median household income. Area median household income ranges depending on location and family size. For example, 80 percent of area median household income for a family of four currently ranges from $33,600 a year in several rural counties to $42,500 in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Attention will be given to serving rural areas and very low income populations, including, but not limited to, the disabled, the homeless, victims of domestic violence, and the elderly.
o Provide grants, loans, loan guarantees, and/or loan subsidies to eligible applicants to fund residential housing and/or related activities. Eligible activities will include new construction, rehabilitation, rental or homeownership housing, rental assistance, land acquisition, predevelopment costs, infrastructure, transitional housing, down payment assistance, housing and foreclosure counseling, and technical assistance.
o Make eligible for funding local governments, local public housing authorities and agencies, non-profit organizations and non-profit and for-profit housing developers. Funds will be awarded through a competitive process based on review criteria to be established by ADFA in collaboration with the Housing Trust Fund Advisory Committee.

“Quality housing that is accessible and affordable for our members is a large part of what makes a community livable for a lifetime,” said Lou Tobian, Co-Chair of Housing Arkansas and Associate State Director-Outreach for AARP Arkansas.

CONTACT: Mike Leach (501) 661-0322 ext. 24