On a quarter-acre plot at the north end of downtown Bentonville, construction crews recently put the finishing touches on four homes – charming and eye-catching, with shaded front porches and splashes of color.
These new homes – called the Briartown Cottages – add curb appeal and a cheerful feel to a downtown neighborhood where rising housing costs are pricing the region’s workforce out of the market.
“The word that comes to mind is cute,” says Casey Kleinhenz, executive director of the Community Development Corporation of Bentonville and Bella Vista, which developed and owns the properties.
Built as a demonstration project, the Briartown Cottages will serve as affordable homes for working couples or families – a demographic in growing need of quality housing close to the city’s amenities.
But the cottages are designed for a larger purpose – to show Northwest Arkansas residents how backyard cottages can grow the supply of quality housing in mid-density neighborhoods that are walkable, near amenities and have access to transit.
Homeowners can use the cottages as additional housing for family members, or as rental properties for individuals and small families. Technically called accessory dwelling units, these small homes create affordable places to live for working couples and families.
“The idea is anybody who is a homeowner and has a backyard could build one of these cottages,” says Casey.
“They are visually appealing. They could generate income for homeowners. They are designed to blend into existing neighborhoods. Backyard cottages are an appealing way to add density without changing the character of an existing neighborhood.”
The Walton Family Foundation provided support for design and construction of the Briartown Cottages as part of regional efforts to increase access to workforce housing to ensure Northwest Arkansas is an inclusive, vibrant and affordable place to live.
In order to build a truly inclusive community, it is essential the people who help the region function – teachers, nurses, firefighters and others – can live in close proximity to the region’s economic, cultural and recreational opportunities. While accessory dwelling units won’t solve the region’s housing challenges on their own, they are part of a suite of solutions that can address housing affordability.
It’s a bold challenge to tackle. Over the past five years, average home sales prices in Northwest Arkansas have increased 44% and multifamily leases have risen more than 26%.
“One piece of the solution is to create more rental units of various sizes and price points,” says Casey.
Higher land costs are driving the steep increases in housing costs. Building backyard cottages removes that obstacle by eliminating the need to purchase land for new home construction. They are, says Casey, one of the least invasive ways to increase housing density in neighborhoods.
The Briartown Cottages range in size from 550 to 850 square feet and come in one or two-bedroom models, with one or two bathrooms.
Another unique feature of the Briartown Cottages project – anyone can access the designs. Plans for each of the four cottages are free and available to download, removing another barrier that can drive up the cost of housing.
“People can use the plans off the shelf exactly the way they are,” says Casey, “but they can also look at the plans and get an idea of how they might change the space a little bit to fit their own needs.”
The homes were designed by Flintlock Architecture and Landscape and Robert Sharp Architects of Northwest Arkansas, in association with John Massengale Architect of New York. Briartown Cottages was chosen as a Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence project, which aims to foster connections and inspire a sense of belonging in communities through high-quality design.
“I think everybody benefits by fixing a supply and demand issue with our housing. If we don’t have enough housing, everybody is strapped,” says Allison Thurmond Quinlan, principal architect at Flintlock, one of the Briartown Cottages design firms.
“The more that we can provide housing that matches our population growth, the more that everybody can find the housing options they need.”