Linda Weatherford moved to Dumas, Arkansas, in 1986, expecting a brief stop in her teaching career before pursuing diplomatic services. Instead, Dumas became her longest-standing home.

Coming from a military family, Linda faced immediate challenges finding a rental property in Dumas, highlighting the town’s housing scarcity even back then. Despite this, the town was thriving, with schools full, new neighborhoods being developed, and a lively community life.

Linda soon met her future husband, Doug. Initially, they lived in the country due to his farming job. However, his volunteer commitment to the local fire department brought them back into town, where they bought a house near the fire station.

Over the years, Dumas experienced a population decline, a trend in southeast Arkansas. The arrival and departure of Walmart impacted local businesses, but new small businesses continued to emerge, striving to find their footing.

Linda’s community involvement deepened through disaster response efforts. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005, Linda helped transform her church into a shelter for over 400 evacuees, some of whom remain in Dumas today. This experience forged vital community connections, which proved invaluable when a tornado struck Dumas two and a half years later.

Linda and Doug played crucial roles in the recovery efforts, further embedding their commitment to the town.

“We’ve been invested in the community volunteering-wise ever since,” Linda said.

Map showing Dumas Arkansas
Dumas, AR is located in SE Arkansas and has created a taskforce to work alongside Communities Unlimited's Housing Department

Housing issues in Dumas became particularly pronounced as Linda worked with new teachers each year, helping them find places to live. Affordable housing was scarce, often forcing teachers to share accommodations.

Recognizing this growing problem, Linda joined a community development initiative led by former mayor Flora Simon. Housing quickly emerged as a top priority, and Linda chaired the committee, which evolved into the Dumas Housing Taskforce.

Dumas had a USDA-operated cotton classifying facility that provided about a hundred jobs. When the USDA decided to close this facility, Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, a strong supporter of rural development, requested measures to mitigate the impact on Dumas.

In response, the USDA proposed including Dumas in their Rural Partners Network (RPN). Partners for Rural Transformation included Dumas in their efforts and asked Communities Unlimited (CU) to collaborate with Dumas. CU agreed and started assisting the community in Dumas to identify their needs. Housing emerged as a critical issue, particularly the lack of entry-level housing for new residents and teachers.

The USDA also requested an economic development component, leading CU’s Entrepreneurship Team to engage in local projects developing and training Entrepreneurs and Small Business owners in the community. In addition, Dumas became the pilot for CU’s housing model, COME HOME, which includes four components: housing needs assessments, resource portfolio development, strategic housing planning, and innovative lending.

Dumas Taskforce
Led by the Dumas Housing Taskforce, Dumas has rallied around CU's COME HOME approach as they take charge of housing solutions in their town.

Early findings revealed many older homes needing repair, prompting the creation of a repair program to address urgent needs and prevent homes from becoming uninhabitable, especially for elderly and disabled residents.

CU’s Housing Team, led by Area Director Audra Butler, helped facilitate a $100,000 grant to Dumas for home improvements, which saw over 60 applicants. Through word of mouth and local volunteers, some small repairs have been made, and the town has seen an uptick in home sales, Linda Weatherford says.

Financial institutions and home buyer classes provided by CU have been instrumental in helping residents understand and navigate the process of purchasing a home. Weatherford emphasizes the importance of external support and expertise in driving community initiatives.

While local knowledge is invaluable, outside authorities can often provide the validation and resources to effect change. Weatherford’s vision for Dumas includes more accessible homeownership opportunities, the rehabilitation of vacant properties, and the construction of new homes to attract and retain young families.

Volunteers remain a cornerstone of these efforts. With diverse backgrounds and perspectives, they bring a wealth of ideas and solutions to the table. The community’s passion for improvement is palpable, with residents keen to see Dumas thrive despite the challenges posed by natural disasters and economic shifts.

The establishment of a repair program to address critical housing issues for low-income, elderly, and disabled residents has been a crucial step. Partnerships with entities like Simmons Bank have facilitated initiatives such as the Fortified Roofing program, aimed at providing durable roofs to withstand severe weather. This program alone has brought about $300,000 worth of roof repairs to the community.

The efforts to improve housing are just one part of a broader push for sustainability and growth.

"I'm thrilled about everything happening in Dumas. It's a beautiful community. Even though it’s been hit hard by natural disasters and economic challenges, it’s the perfect place to start our work. Dumas represents the struggles of many rural communities, but they are working hard to push for more sustainability. The town is making strides to improve conditions, and we're already starting to see growth."

Kapriskie Mack

— Kapriskie Mack, CU’s Community Housing Technician

Butler echoed those same sentiments.

“When it comes to housing, everyone wants to see new homes and visible, tangible progress,” Butler said. “While needs assessments, strategic planning, and resource development are crucial steps, they often lack excitement. Now, we’re starting to see those steps lead to tangible results and visible projects, generating a lot of excitement – not just in Dumas, but within our team as well. We’re witnessing the fruits of our labor and the positive impact on the community. This is an exciting time for us, and I look forward to seeing what unfolds in the coming months.”

Area Director of Housing Audra Butler speaks at a meeting in Dumas discussing the formation of the Dumas Housing Taskforce

As Weatherford reflects on her journey, she sees Dumas as a resilient and beautiful community, determined to overcome its challenges. With continued support and a collective vision, Weatherford remains optimistic about the future of Dumas, a town that has become her true home.

“We've got people here who want to stay here and want this community to flourish. Those positives outweigh a lot of the negatives.”

— Linda Weatherford, Dumas resident and Housing Taskforce member