3 Families Get Homebuying Help

Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation

April 2022

Arkansas has the second-most non-elderly adults in the nation with past-due medical debt, but a group of organizations including the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation are working to change that.

WRF partnered with several nonprofits to relive more than $35 million in debt. ALICE Reports provide high-quality, research-based information to foster a better understanding of who is struggling in our communities. Working closely with United Ways, this WRF research initiative seeks to equip communities with information to create innovative solutions. A group of organizations applied the innovation to families in Pine Bluff, making them first-time homeowners through creative funding.

Three families are now the newest owners of homes in Pine Bluff thanks to the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, yet Employed) program, which offers 100% financing over a 30-year term through Simmons Bank. Lekymmie Taylor, Tamara Parker and Lashanna Thomas all closed last week on their new homes in Pine Bluff.

ALICE was launched at the end of January, and by the end of the week, Go Forward Pine Bluff CEO Ryan Watley said, a multitude of people were inquiring about the program made possible with partnerships between the city of Pine Bluff, Simmons Bank, Go Forward Pine Bluff, the Pine Bluff Housing Authority, the Pine Bluff Urban Renewal Agency, United Way of Southeast Arkansas, Liberty Utilities and Relyance Bank.

“We had over 100 calls in the first week,” said Watley. According to Watley, city officials wanted to assist ALICE families while spurring social and economic growth in Pine Bluff. Using a study by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation on ALICE families, Watley said such families are often subjected to rental payments that are well above what a mortgage payment would be.

In many cases, what stands in the way of an ALICE family buying a house is that they don’t have a qualifying credit score, down payment and closing costs. Watley said 10 months of meeting and planning with community partners resulted in a product to address those challenges, reverse the population decline and improve neighborhoods.

Thomas, 28, originally from Fordyce, had been renting a two-bedroom duplex for more than two years in Pine Bluff before deciding in mid-February that she wanted to be a homeowner.

“I heard about the ALICE program and I applied not expecting that I would qualify,” said Thomas, who has two children. Thomas said she had less than perfect credit that she began working to repair last year and felt her credit still needed some work.

“I was surprised when I received the call saying that I was approved,” said Thomas. “Everyone was so helpful and the loan officer and Realtor helped me every step of the way.” Thomas said even though this was her first time going through the home- buying procedure, the process was quick and seamless. Premier Real Estate Realtor, LaRhonda Glover, helped all three women establish homeownership and said she believes the ALICE program is exactly what the city of Pine Bluff needed.

“This opportunity has been presented and so many people are taking advantage of it,” said Glover. “All they needed was a chance.”