Residential initiative gets more space

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Last month, Ryan Watley, CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff, announced that ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Yet Employed) families looking for a home and living in the Pine Bluff metro area are eligible for financing of 97% up 100% owned by Simmons Bank as part of their Re-Live Pine Bluff initiative.

Part of the initiative includes the Neighborhood Enhancement Act, which will provide up to 20% of new construction/renovation costs to attract developers to the target area, bounded by 17th Street on the north and 34th Street on the south; hazelnut in the west; and olive in the east. Homeowners must commit to living in the target area for five years.

These target areas are located in the Pine Bluff urban regeneration area and according to PBURA Interim Executive Director Chandra Griffin, this area would be their focus for rot removal.

An ordinance passed by the City Council earlier this month assigned two lots owned by the City of Pine Bluff in the area to URA for residential construction.

“What this will do is encourage new construction and development within this target area through the Neighborhood Enhancement Act,” Griffin said. “These two houses will be built and sold. It will help with comps [real estate comparables] for this area.”

The new buildings will be located at 33rd and Plum Streets and 1011 W. 23rd Ave. said Griffin, who said she has already been in touch with an architect who will design the house.

A Request For Qualifications (RFQ) will be submitted for a General Contractor whose partnership lasts for the duration of the approved projects through December 2023.

In terms of profit, Watley said they will sell the houses at a certain price, but it’s possible they won’t receive all of the money that went into building the houses.

“This is why a non-profit developer needs to step up and start driving the market,” Watley said. “The main goal is to establish comps in the area. They have very low comps which hamper the ability to get credit value for rehab, especially for new builds.”

Watley said the Re-Live Pine Bluff funding ceiling for a home is about $170,000, so construction costs must stay under that amount.

PBURA officials said Tuesday during their meeting that they supported the idea and accepted the packages from the city, but were concerned about whether PBURA could legally build a home and flip and sell it.

Watley said during that meeting that the Neighborhood Enhancement Act falls under the authority of the Urban Renewal Agency as well as the Housing Authority and has very similar scrutiny.

Griffin said she would check with the agency’s attorney.

The City of Pine Bluff, Simmons Bank, GFPB, Pine Bluff Housing Authority, PBURA, United Way of Southeast Arkansas, Liberty Utilities and Relyance Bank are all partners contributing to subsidized housing in the targeted areas.

Simmons Bank has lowered its qualifying credit ratings to 580 and 620, respectively, for the 97% Affordable Advantage and 100% Advantage Home Mortgage Products.

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington spoke about the initiative during Wednesday’s Public Works Committee meeting and said the city is trying to push housing construction in the city.

“We have a lot of people looking for houses. Urban Renewal is preparing, they will begin construction on site to build on the vacant lots within the community,” Washington said.

Washington said there are still needs for development citywide, and she has been in discussions with affordable housing developers at the old Southeast Middle School at 2001 S. Ohio St.

Last year, PBURA approved the purchase of the property – a value for Washington, which plans to use the property to improve the quality of life in Pine Bluff. By forming a partnership with the Pine Bluff Housing Authority, city managers wanted the property to be able to provide affordable housing.

Washington negotiated with the state Department of Education and its secretary, Johnny Key, for the land to be donated to the city. After months of no progress, Washington said she was directed by Pine Bluff School District Superintendent Barbara Warren to bid on the property, which has fallen into disrepair.

Washington made an offer of $25,000, which was accepted the next day. But she said the offer has since expired and she would like to buy the property before it is sold to someone else.

The affordable housing will be multi-family units that will meet the needs of some of the 200 eligible families already on the Pine Bluff Housing Authority’s waiting list.

“They want to get rid of it and I would like to start negotiations,” Washington said.

A motion was made during the committee meeting to send the full council permission to proceed with the purchase process with a “do pass”.

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