The Fort Smith Housing Authority (FSHA) faced a small but hostile audience Monday night (Aug. 20) at the Bluff Avenue Baptist Church.
The controversy: FSHA wishes to add 36 units of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing at the corner of South S and South 16th Streets.
The FSHA will present its proposal at the Fort Smith Board of Directors study session on Tuesday (Aug. 28), seeking $1.094 million in infrastructure assistance from the city’s 1% Streets, Drainage, and Bridges City Sales Tax Funds. The North Point Annex project will seek $659,580 in streets and drainage improvements, while the proposed Bailey Hill Subdivision — the focus of Monday night’s meeting — would require an estimated $434,950 in streets, drainage, and sidewalk improvements.
The FSHA also hopes the city will consider donating the Bailey Hill Reservoir land as the site of the Bailey Hill Reservoir Redevelopment Project. (Demolition of the Bailey Hill Reservoir is not included in the $1.094 million total.)
If approved, the FSHA hopes to add on single-family housing, though a determination has not yet been made whether the units will be three- and four-bedroom homes or two-bedroom duplexes.
Two attendees, who did not wish to be named, feared falling property values as a result of the HUD-approved addition.
“It’s a great thing that you guys do, providing housing for lower income, but while that may be the case, no one wants it in their own neighborhood,” said one.
“We’ve done close to $40,000 of work to our house in the last three years, and we’re looking at spending another $20,000, but we don’t know if we should,” added another.
Housing Development Officer Mitch Minnick disagrees with the idea that HUD-approved housing will mean automatically deflated property values.
Minnick did not have numbers handy to calm the fears of neighborhood residents, and the county assessor’s office was closed at the time of the meeting, which occurred at 5:30 p.m.
Still, FSHA Executive Director Ken Pyle attempted to ease concerns. “This is our commitment to you: we are the bad neighbors’ worst enemy, and if there is trouble, we are going to be the ones helping you call the cops. We are a good neighbor to good neighbors.”
Pyle pointed to quarterly inspections from the Housing Authority and to reviews of current residences before granting access to affordable housing as examples of how the FSHA works to protect property values.
“House visits are an alarm bell for me,” one audience member shot back. “It (HUD residences) has got to be pretty damn bad if someone has to walk in to another person’s home just to make sure they’re doing dishes and living right.”
Pyle pointed to the North Pointe I an II projects, which began construction in 2007 and finished in 2011, as rental housing developments that have been successful for FSHA.
“We take full responsibility for North Pointe. We know there’s stuff that goes on. But we hold the residents accountable for their behaviors,” Pyle said. “We want to be your partner in this.”
Following the meeting, Minnick told The City Wire that the Bailey Hill units will be comparable to the 57-unit development at Clayton Heights.
Clayton Heights homes cost “around $164,000 per house” with infrastructure costs included, Minnick said, and “about $93,000 each for actual home construction.”
Bailey Hill three- and four-bedroom homes, if approved, would run from $700 to $820 per month, but those eligible for voucher assistance would receive a $320 monthly reduction, according to current averages, Pyle added.
Single persons are not eligible for the program.