While nearly a dozen homes are already under construction in the new Southern Crossing rental housing development at 38th Avenue and Ohio Street, ground was officially broken at the site during a ceremony Wednesday morning.
A longtime dream of Pine Bluff Housing Authority Executive Director Jeannie H. Epperson, the $10.7 million, 65-lot subdivision is scheduled for completion by the end of 2013.
“This is truly a dream come true,” Epperson said. “We have been working on finding a way to accomplish this since 2008. We were not successful then or in 2009 but we finally found success in 2011. We decided that we wanted to do something different and think outside the box on providing affordable housing to Pine Bluff. We found that what people really want is affordable rental housing.”
Epperson said the majority of the homes will have three bedrooms, with several four-bedroom residences.
“We have it set up this way in response to the need in the community,” Epperson said. “We conducted a community survey to see what type of housing people wanted. Each of these homes will have a two-car garage as well as a fully equipped kitchen and a washer and dryer. Each home will also have two bathrooms.”
Epperson said her goal has always been to provide the best possible housing for Pine Bluff residents.
“We are building the kinds of homes that we want to live in ourselves,” Epperson said. “We must all remember that we are just a few paychecks away from being on the other side of the table. I always try to do for others what I would want done for me.”
Epperson said she believes the eventual residents of Southern Crossing will be proud to live there.
“It’s my belief that if you give tenants the responsibility to maintain where they live they step up to the plate,” Epperson said. “We have been very diligent to produce housing that is clean, safe, decent and sanitary.”
Former Department of Housing and Urban Development Field Director Alice Rufus spoke about her happiness at seeing the Southern Crossing development come to fruition.
“I am here today because I worked at HUD and saw a lot of communities that needed a lot of help,” Rufus said. “Jeannie [Epperson] asked me to be here today and I couldn’t say no after all the favors she has done for me. This new subdivision is based on the idea that we build communities for people regardless of their skin color, regardless of their class or their income level. Since I don’t work for HUD anymore I can talk about God and this is an answer to prayer for Pine Bluff.”
Rufus said Southern Crossing represents a new way of thinking about affordable housing.
“People don’t want to have to say they are from the projects, and Southern Crossing is not a project; it is a subdivision,” Rufus said. “People are people. I thank God and praise Him for this new development.”
Epperson said one of the streets will be named for a woman who served on the PBHA board for nearly 10 years.
“One of these streets will be Shavers Lane in honor of Lorraine Shavers who served on our board of directors as a representative of the public housing residents,” Epperson said as her voice broke from emotion. “Ms. Shavers raised her son in the projects and he went on to graduate from UAPB. Donovan bought his mother a home of her own last December which she was able to live in for a month before she passed away in February.”
Epperson said Shavers served on the PBHA board for nine years and made a significant contribution during her time there.
“She understood what we were trying to do,” Epperson said.
Funding for Southern Crossing is being provided by a letter of credit from Simmons First National Bank; a permanent loan backed by HUD through mortgage lender Prudential Hooton Paige; an award of Affordable Housing Tax Credits and other funds from the Arkansas Housing Development Finance Authority; and equity partner Alliant Capital Group, which purchased the Affordable Housing Tax Credits.
The homes will range in size from 1,100 to 1,600 square feet, according to Steve Ficklin, a consultant with QSF & Associates LLC.
Four units will be reserved for persons at or below 30 percent of the Area Median Income; 10 units for persons at or below 50 percent of AMI; 34 units for persons at or below 60 percent of AMI; with 17 rented at the market rate.
Five units will be designed to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Jefferson Comprehensive Care System Inc. will conduct intake from all tenants to evaluate family services needs and to make computer training workshops available. The intake also will include classes on housekeeping, family planning and other subjects. Referrals to appropriate outside providers also will be made.
A waiting list for prospective tenants has been established by the PBHA with interested parties asked to call the authority at (870) 541-0706 for leasing information.