Wednesday night, a small group of protestors gathered in the cold outside the gated community in Rogers where Governor Hutchinson has a private residence to bring attention to the issues of evictions and rent relief. The event, “No Room at the Inn: Renters Speak Out on the Eviction Crisis” was held in conjunction with an identical event in Little Rock outside the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion.
Hutchinson owns a home in the tony Pinnacle Country Club subdivision where a golf membership at the private course costs over $8,000 a year with a $6,000 initiation fee. Property records show Hutchinson bought his house for $518,000 around a decade ago, but if you want to live on the street he shares with U.S. Sen. John Boozman, your only options currently start at $930,000.
According to one of the organizers of the event, Pastor Clint Schnekloth of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, he went to Pinnacle the Saturday afternoon before the event to determine if there were public sidewalks. While there, he gave the guard at the gate his full name and inquired if he was able to visit with Governor Hutchinson. He was denied entry due to no one at Hutchinson’s home answering the phone. That same day, Schnekloth’s wife, who has a different last name, received a call from Arkansas State Police Trooper Mike Kennedy before Kennedy reached Schnekloth to tell him his attempt to gain access to the governor’s private residence was “abnormal behavior” according to Schnekloth, who also felt the call was “strategically intimidating.”
Hutchinson has not helped stem the worsening eviction crisis in the state and, at one point, advised those needing assistance to “reach out to a legal aid or community support organization.” To add insult to injury, one the members of the governor’s much touted Economic Recovery Task Force, Sylvester Smith, has filed well over a 100 eviction actions since June according to public court records. Schnekloth, a pastor, has worked to raise money to aid at least 300 families during the pandemic and has heard from many more in need. No wonder he wanted an audience with Hutchinson. Instead he got a call from a police officer questioning his motives.
According to Schnekloth, the Rogers event near Hutchinson’s home and the Little Rock event were planned in cooperation with Arkansas Renters United and the Democratic Socialists of America. One of the attendees was Albious Latior of Springdale, a member of the Northwest Arkansas Marshallese community who said he gets at least 100 calls or messages a day from individuals asking for help with rent and food or help with how to quarantine. Since last summer, Laitor reports, many people he knows lost their homes because they were unable to work due to repeated exposures, often in the poultry companies. Some of those individuals were positive for COVID-19 and spread the virus when they were forced to move in with family members.
When asked if he were able to speak directly to Hutchinson, Latior made this plea:
“One of the things I really want him to do, because I know he personally is connected to the poultry companies in Northwest Arkansas where most of the Marshallese people work, is please ask the poultry companies to raise the minimum wage or give a bonus. People are working nonstop through the pandemic. Ask them to pay workers while in quarantine even if they have not tested positive. Some are scared to tell their work a family member is sick because they will have to quarantine with no pay and lose their car and their job. They will not be able to provide food for their family.”
Attendee Sarah Moore of Fayetteville said the group had received some encouragement and positive reactions during the event, except for one woman.
“A lady took the time to sit at the stop sign long enough to read the signs and then she let out the loudest cackle I’ve ever heard. I don’t really know what’s funny about being possibly homeless or getting evicted. I’m just trying to process that right now.”