EUREKA SPRINGS -- Eight small houses sprang up last week among the 60-foot-tall pine trees on Passion Play Road.
They are the first of 26 houses planned for ECHO Village, a low-cost rental housing community in a tourist town that has a dearth of affordable housing.
The village is a project of Eureka Christian Health Outreach, which opened a clinic in Eureka Springs in 2005. The clinic provides free health care to the uninsured and people with low incomes. It was founded by Suzie Bell and Dr. Dan Bell.
The clinic has been featured on the Oprah television show, ABC World News Tonight and in People magazine.
Many people who go to the clinic have nowhere to live, said Suzie Bell. Some are couch surfing. Others don't even have that option.
"One lady had a tick disease because she was sleeping out in the woods," Suzie Bell said.
About five years ago, Suzie Bell started working with area hotels to house some of the homeless, but that was only a temporary fix.
She said the Bells considered buying a hotel to house the homeless, but a friend, Kimberly Clark of Eureka Springs, suggested a village concept with small homes, and that made more sense.
"It's important to have your own space," said Suzie Bell.
The Bells hope ECHO Village will be a permanent solution for several tenants.
They hope to keep the rent around $495 for a one-bedroom house and $650 for two bedrooms, and that includes utilities, said Suzie Bell.
ECHO Village will have a mix of people, she said. They could include first-time jail offenders, people with handicaps or retirees who just want to downsize. A common thread will be "housing insecurity," she said.
"We want homeless veterans," Suzie Bell said. "I would love to have a nice mix of people of all kinds of ethnicity -- gay, straight, atheist, religious, old, young, fat, tall, short, skinny. This is all good. I think that makes for a healthier world. They're all God's children. He has a beautiful sense of humor because he makes them in all sizes, shapes and colors."
It's essential that the first eight houses are rented to the right people, said Dan Bell. They don't want the village to get a bad reputation.
"That inoculation will be the DNA of the community," he said.
"I'm going to be tough," Suzie Bell said. "If you violate any of the rules, you're one and done. There's no three strikes and you're out. If you're going to be a bad neighbor and you've got a loud dog, you're out. I'm sorry. You go into this with the understanding this is your one shot to do well."
The Bells envision a community where people help one another. There will be a community building, a community garden and a chicken coop. There will be an on-site property manager. Advisers will help people manage their finances or write their resumes. Physicians from ECHO Clinic, which is a half-mile away, can check on residents periodically.
Eureka Christian Health Outreach bought 10 acres for the housing community. It will own the land and the houses.
The homes -- which range from 400 to about 1,300 square feet in size -- are being built in two weeks by 66 volunteers from 13 states with World Mission Builders, which was founded in 1975 by Ed Thomas of Baxter Springs, Kan. The organization has built more than 300 church-related buildings in 89 countries, said Joe Wilson of Enid, Okla., the mission's domestic project coordinator.
Pre-constructed walls were donated by Help Build Hope of Louisville, Ky., and are shipped for free to Eureka Springs.
After the World Mission workers leave June 15, local volunteers will finish out the interiors, said Suzie Bell. They're still looking for local volunteers.
Suzie Bell said she obtained a grant to fund two of the homes. The United Methodist Church of Eureka Springs is sponsoring one of the eight houses, and a benefactor in Eureka Springs wrote a check to pay for another house.
Suzie Bell said the entire project is expected to cost $1.2 million. Some fundraising will be done to pay for the next 18 houses.
Dan Bell said about 30 people have expressed interest in renting one of the houses. They've received about a dozen applications so far. Suzie Bell said they will start looking at applications in July with plans to get people in the houses this fall.
John Wiley said he has applied to live in one of the houses. A former Eureka Springs restaurateur, Wiley said he was ill for a couple of years and his financial situation has deteriorated.
"I need more space and a yard to work in," he said. "I enjoy gardening."
Suzie Bell said community living isn't a new concept. There are similar communities in cities like Austin, Chicago and Detroit.
But the Bells hope they can duplicate their Eureka Springs model in other small towns.
"I think if we can tweak our mistakes, we can show other small communities how to care for their own," she said. "That's what it's going to take for us to get out of this hole of poverty."
Asee Mason (from left) of Eureka Springs fist-bumps Dr. Dan Bell on Friday. Bell and his wife, Suzie, are the founders of ECHO Village.
Metro on 06/10/2018
Print Headline: 8 houses 1st of 26 to go up, aid poor; Vision: Low-cost village of homes