It was a packed conference room at Fort Smith’s USDA Service Center on Thursday (July 31) where a heated two-hour meeting took place concerning Van Buren’s rural development housing loans.
Officials from the State’s USDA Rural Development Office explained to audience members why the city is no longer defined as rural. They say this is because Van Buren’s population is growing, and while it meets the guideline of having under 35,000 residents, the USDA says the growth indicates the town is no longer “rural in nature,” a standard that also needs to be met.
Many residents, lenders and realtors are upset now since because of this change, the USDA’s rural housing loans are set to be taken away. Some even say it will ruin the town’s housing market as a whole.
“It’s still considered a rural area concerning the rest of the country, the rest of the country would consider Arkansas in general as a rural area,” Jim Petty concerned Van Buren resident and realtor said.
“The issue becomes are they rural? Do they continue to exist as rural, and that’s where the controversy is, our determination is that no, they’re not. ” Laurence McCullough, USDA Rural Development State Director said.
He recommends concerned residents contact their legislators in order to petition to change the regulation before the loans are set to be taken away October 1.