Fayetteville council picks 7 Hills for $1.6 million grant to address homelessness

Fayetteville City Hall is seen on Mountain Street in 2017. (File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The City Council chose to use the rest of its share of federal pandemic relief money on a plan to address homelessness.

Council members voted 7-0 early Wednesday to select 7 Hills Homeless Center to receive part of the city's portion of American Rescue Plan money. The city was granted a total of $17.9 million and had $1.6 million remaining.

The city earlier this year solicited proposals to use what was left of its rescue plan money on an affordable housing solution. Two organizations responded, with the council selecting 7 Hills' proposal over a set of plans from local firm Flintlock Landscape, Architecture + Building, owned by former Planning Commissioner Alli Quinlan.

The 7 Hills proposal involved a number of partner organizations and focused on relief for individuals and families experiencing or at risk of experiencing homelessness. The Flintlock proposal was targeted at working-class residents by using the money to subsidize rents for a set of planned residential developments.

Council members praised both proposals, but all who spoke agreed the 7 Hills proposal more closely matched what they wanted to see with the use of the money. During workshops leading up to the selection, members said they wanted to see some kind of collaborative effort among partner organizations that involved case management for people trying to get out of homelessness. The Flintlock proposal involved no case-management aspect and was more of a straightforward development proposal, they said.

The winning proposal has five components, each headed by a different organization. 7 Hills will act as the fiduciary agent reporting to the city, which will report use of the money to the federal government.

7 Hills hopes to convert the dorms at its Walker Family Residential Community south of Huntsville Road into an overnight shelter with 64 beds.

New Beginnings wants to create a place for people moving out of its microshelter community on School Avenue. The organization has a pair of triplexes under contract on Kaywood Lane, behind Braum's on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Additionally, some money would be used to kick off a program called Family Promise among a group of churches. The churches would rotate providing shelter to families, and the money would help modify the churches to better accommodate families and buy supplies.

More money would go toward supporting the Salvation Army's existing Pathway of Hope program, which provides rent, financial assistance and case management services to families facing homelessness.

Lastly, a nonprofit in Rogers called Diva & Dude, led by founder Carla Thompson, would head a street outreach program in Fayetteville to divert people from homelessness.

Steven Dotson, the city's deputy chief financial officer, told the council he had some concerns about whether the federal government would approve some aspects of the proposal. For instance, part of the New Beginnings project to create a small neighborhood involves making a garden and community space. Dotson said he wasn't sure he could justify that use of the money to the federal government. He also doubted money could be used for a new program among a group of churches. The city would have to reimburse the federal government for any unauthorized use of the money.

However, Dotson said he felt the city could work with 7 Hills and its partners to come up with a solution that would satisfy the federal government. The council's action Tuesday essentially gave the green light to the city administration to negotiate a contract for services with 7 Hills, so details can be worked out then, he said.

Dotson also reminded the council the city can only convey the money on a reimbursement basis. Becci Sisson, 7 Hills chief executive officer, told the council she and the 7 Hills board were aware that the money will have to be spent first by the organizations. She said the organizations are prepared financially to handle the initial burden.

"It wasn't a money chase. It had to be something where we could do due diligence," Sisson said. "We have to do this right, and we're committed to doing it right."

Seven people spoke in support of the 7 Hills proposal during the meeting. Solomon Burchfield, program director with New Beginnings, estimated the proposal would provide more than 350 people with emergency shelter over two years and provide more than 100 people with permanent housing.

"I'm really confident we're going to be able to hammer out the details," he said.

Council Member Holly Hertzberg said homelessness is a complex issue, so no proposal will be perfect.

"Because this is such a nuanced, complex topic, I think the proposal we have is just that," she said. "It's made to address complex issues. We will work out the kinks and hopefully everything will go smoothly."

The city has until the end of next year to obligate use of the money and until the end of 2026 to spend it. Otherwise, the money must be returned to the federal government.

On the web

Read the proposal from 7 Hills at: