New Initiative Assists Low-Income Pine Bluff Families with Homeownership

The goal of the public-private partnership is to spur investment and improve neighborhood conditions.

Street with row of modest 1940s style working class bungalows

Re-Live Pine Bluff is a new effort designed to, among other things, increase homeownership and facilitate property value appreciation for economic and social mobility. The initiative is the work of a coalition formed in response to a Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation report on ALICE — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — families.

These households earn more than the Federal Poverty Level, but less than the basic cost of living for the state. According to the study, 17 percent of Arkansas households earn below the poverty line and another 24 percent are ALICE. Nearly half of Jefferson County households fall into these categories.

“A home is one of the fundamental assets for social and economic prosperity; however, qualifying credit scores and required down payment prevent many from homeownership,” said Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley.

During a press conference yesterday, Watley announced a partnership with Simmons Bank to launch two new programs — the 97 Percent Affordable Advantage and the 100 Percent Advantage Home Mortgage Products — to address homeownership barriers. Simmons Bank has lowered their qualifying credit rating to 580 and 620, respectively, for these programs which have income and geographic restrictions.  

“Simmons Bank was founded right here in Pine Bluff more than 100 years ago,” said Martie North, senior vice president of community affairs and the Community Reinvestment Act at Simmons Bank. “Our community banking roots run deep and we are committed to supporting our communities across our now six-state footprint, and our commitment to Pine Bluff and Jefferson County remains steadfast.”

The new programs offer 100 percent and 97 percent financing over a 30-year term. Residents in the Pine Bluff metropolitan statistical area are eligible for the 100 percent financing option, while the 97 percent financing option is being offered within the area bounded by 34th Avenue to the south, 17th Avenue to the north, Olive Street to the east and Hazel Street to the west. 

“This area was selected to spur investments across the mix of low-, moderate- and medium-income census tracts in the footprint,” Watley said. “The economic diversity potentially helps all achieve a more equitable position at a faster rate.”

Simmons Bank has committed $2 million to develop the 97 percent financing option. As part of that option, Go Forward Pine Bluff raised $300,000 — $65,000 of which was provided by Liberty Utilities and United Way of Southeast Arkansas — to start a down payment and closing cost assistance loan fund.  

Go Forward Pine Bluff will offer the remaining three percent financing to homeowners who agree to join the newly formed Pine Bluff Homeowners’ Association. The group is managed in partnership with the Pine Bluff Housing Authority to ensure families receive homeowner education. Relyance Bank will administer the down payment and assistance loan.

In the coming weeks, the Pine Bluff City Council will be asked to activate the Neighborhood Enhancement Act which, if approved, will permit the city to provide homeowners or developers up to 20 percent of the cost for new construction or rehabilitation of a home in the 97 percent advantage area. The agreement requires homeowners to live in the area for at least five years.

“Complex challenges require dynamic solutions,” Mayor Shirley Washington said. “It is my hope that upon approval of this legislation, it will inspire our local developers to actively rebuild our community and attract outside investment to enhance the overall quality of life.”

For more information about the new financing options, call Simmons Bank in Pine Bluff at 870-541-1032.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.