Leader Blues

Friday, June 27, 2008

TOP STORY > >Foreclosures hitting Lonoke County hard

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

The likelihood of home foreclosure in bedroom communities such as Jacksonville, Cabot, Ward and Austin are greater than in employment centers such as Little Rock, North Little Rock and Conway, according to Jonathan Lupton, a Metroplan city planner.

Following a review of readily available data, Lupton called his early assessment “more than speculation but less than hard numbers,” adding that he had just taken a preliminary look at foreclosures and pre-foreclosures.

He said Cabot, Ward, Austin and Carlisle were the hardest hit.

Sherwood, so far, is not.

Interviewed later, Lupton said that he had ranked foreclosures compared with housing market size in 15 central Arkansas towns. Lonoke had the greatest prevalence of foreclosures, followed by Austin, then Carlisle. Ward ranked sixth and Jacksonville ranked ninth.

Lupton said he was surprised by the relatively high prevalence of foreclosures in Jacksonville, since the other larger communities, such as Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood had lower foreclosure rates.

“Lonoke County in general came up with the highest overall foreclosure rate among the four counties I checked,” said Lupton.

The others were Faulkner, Pulaski and Saline counties.

He said he would monitor the trend over the next couple of years.

He suggested that escalating prices of gasoline was contributing not only to foreclosures, but also to a fall off in the number of new housing starts in the area, particularly in those towns.

He said in the past, people bought houses further from employment centers because the cost per square foot was less—they could afford more house in Austin than in West Little Rock, but that rising fuel prices could offset lower housing costs and change buying and population patterns in the future.

The population in central Arkansas—that’s the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metropolitan statistical area—has grown 9.2 percent since the 2000 census, outpacing growth in other metropolitan areas in the region, such as Baton Rouge, Oklahoma City, Chattanooga, Jackson, Memphis and Birmingham.

That metropolitan statistical area of central Arkansas includes Sherwood, Jacksonville, Austin, Ward and Cabot as well.

The Metrotrends Demographic Review and Outlook 2008 showed a steady stream of out migration from Pulaski County into neighboring counties.

New housing starts declined by 20 percent, which was marginally less severe than a national decline of 26 percent.
While the number of new, single-family housing starts in 2007 declined by more than 550 in the area to a seven-year low of 2,315, Jacksonville declined only one to 125 and Sherwood increased one to 219.

New housing starts in Cabot, however, dropped from 416 in 2006 to 183 in 2007.

Still, Lonoke County’s estimated population increased 26 percent from 2000 to 2008 to a current high of 66,384, according to Metrotrends.

Austin’s population increased 89 percent from 605 to an estimated 1,141 in 2008. Cabot’s population increased 48 percent to 22,629 and Ward’s 43 percent to 3,691.

“Ward still shows a major growth trend, and has dropped less than average across the region,” Lupton said. “Sherwood and Jacksonville both are holding up pretty well.”

“Perhaps I should have mentioned Jacksonville along with Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood for a steady construction trend,” said Lupton. “But Jacksonville had a lot of foreclosures relative to its size.”

“Don’t forget that building permits and foreclosures, like any economic measures, can be contradictory at times. Thus, Ward can have a strong construction trend and a higher-than-average share of foreclosures simultaneously,” Lupton said.

The population for the city of Lonoke increased only 3 percent 4,420. Carlisle’s population gain since 2000 was 3.5 percent, bringing the population to 2,384.

England gained only 1.5 percent population, or 45 people, to an estimated 2008 population of 3,017.
Unincorporated Lonoke County grew by about 18 percent to 28,309.

In Pulaski County, Maumelle had the greatest rate of growth, 51 percent, bringing the estimated population to 15,911.

Population remained about the same in landlocked North Little Rock and Cammack Village.

Jacksonville’s population increased about 6 percent to 31,661 and Sherwood grew nearly 18 percent to 25,340.

“Growth and development are not really the same thing. The region’s northeast area has had plenty of growth in recent years but a serious lack of development,” he said.

Lupton said it was hard to identify “downtown” in many of these communities.

Aside from the air base, there are few major employers in this region, and the vast majority of residents depend on commuting into the metro area - and paying $4 per gallon for gas - for their livelihoods.

National trends are suggesting that urban growth is moving in the direction of greater population density within walkable, amenity-rich environments.

People who spend a lot of time commuting have high rates of obesity, he said.

With fuel prices rising, and home values tumbling, we may be reaching a “tipping point” that will lead to a renaissance in our more-developed urban areas and decline in sprawling, conventional suburbs, he said.