Everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to live.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Little Rock today. Currently, more than 11,000 households spend more than 50% of their income to meet their housing needs. This must change because it puts so much financial pressure on individuals and families forced to devote the bulk of their paycheck to housing. But the lack of affordable housing also impacts the entire city by contributing to homelessness, traffic woes, fewer stable and secure families, and a range of other issues that hurt our collective quality of life.
As mayor I will pursue a multi-pronged approach to tackle this problem, one that recognizes that it requires government, private industry, and civil society to design and implement initiatives that lead to lasting change. This approach will include proactively working with developers and other stakeholders to incentivize the construction of more affordable housing; ensuring that citizens have access to public transit; and exploring options for our elderly population to remain in the city with walkable access to medical care and other services.
Other cities across the country have successfully pioneered ways to increase their stock of affordable housing. From Oakland to Atlanta to Northwest Arkansas, cities are addressing this issue by requiring a certain percentage of new development include affordable housing units. They are encouraging more mixed income neighborhoods by aggressively reducing the stigma around Section 8 housing and by constructing custom housing complexes designed for the elderly, where grocery stores, medical care, and other essential services are located in their building or a just a short walk away. Another tool the city can utilize involves being more proactive and aggressive about acquiring condemned properties – which have a profoundly negative impact on neighborhoods – and making them available for productive development.
Another issue contributing to our lack of affordable housing results from some basic tenant rights issues. During my three terms in the state legislature, I sponsored significant tenant rights legislation aimed at achieving two big goals. One was to eliminate criminal eviction. Arkansas is the only U.S. state allowing landlords to evict and even press charges against tenants who withhold rent when basic necessities like running water and heat aren’t functioning. Another bill I sponsored was aimed at our lack of an implied warranty of inhabitability. Simply put, this means that when you rent a property it must be habitable. Arkansas is the only state in the country that doesn’t require this. Though neither piece of legislation I sponsored passed, we can achieve these goals at the city level.
These simple policies would ensure that properties are habitable and would also eliminate unnecessary court fees and even jailtime for renters. It would also save the city money. Today we use city resources to enforce evictions. These changes would promote basic fairness. Today, the system is grossly tilted in favor of landlords. Little Rock can and should be a leader in creating a system that is equitable for both tenants and landlords.