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Program helps people become homeowners
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JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — Single mother Melissa Davis used to live in public housing but dreamed of owning her own home.

This month that dream became a reality when she moved in to her three-bedroom house on Scott Street in north Jonesboro. It's a lesson of hard work, community collaboration and maybe a little faith that she hopes to pass on to her 10-year-old daughter.

"I wanted her to see, with me being a single parent, that you can do it," Davis said. "It's just been a blessing."

Her success story was made possible in part by a unique program that offers qualifying individuals financial assistance when purchasing a home. The initiative was begun several years ago by Beacons and Bridges, a community development organization in Jonesboro that wanted to provide affordable housing for low- to moderate-income families in north-central Jonesboro.

Beacons and Bridges was able to finance the construction of five new houses through the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, board Chairman Glen Conley said.

"It's a wonderful program to help individuals who normally would not be able to buy a home the conventional way," Conley said.

Four houses were built on the 600 block of Scott Street and one at 1410 North Church St. Each is around 1,300 square feet and features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a two-car garage and other facilities found in the average single-family house.

They've been on the market since 2009. Conley said Beacons and Bridges had suffered some setbacks around this time, leaving this initiative unable to proceed for a while.

About eight months ago Beacons and Bridges enlisted the help of Rickey Jackson, a real estate agent with Fred Dacus Associates, who began marketing the homes with a renewed vigor.

"They are accessible to all agents in the City of Jonesboro," Jackson said. "We forwarded information to some lenders."

Meanwhile, Davis had been living in a nearby public housing unit and frequently passed by the set of four houses on Scott Street. She was drawn to one in particular, and even though she had achieved some financial stability with a job at Sam's Club, she doubted she could afford a mortgage.

But she convinced herself to call the phone number on the yard sign and got in touch with Jackson, who checked her credit and income level to find that she qualified for the special assistance.

"Everything just fell into place," she said.

Davis received about $5,000 toward the purchase price, becoming the first person to purchase a home through this program.

"I didn't have to pay closing costs or a down payment," she said.

Individuals may qualify if they are low- to moderate-income based on guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"Buyers have to meet qualifications to receive assistance, up to $15,000 to go toward the purchase of the home," Jackson said. "Upon purchase of the property the amount of money that is given to the buyer to complete the transaction is forgivable for a period of time that is set by the program."

In Davis' case, she is required to live in the house a minimum of five years, at which time the $5,000 loan will be forgiven.

The amount contributed by the program is based on how much a buyer qualifies for through a lender. The loan will make up the difference, up to $15,000.

This project was started in conjunction with a related effort to rehabilitate existing homes.

Conley noted various aspects of the construction and rehabilitation projects have been a cooperative effort of Beacons and Bridges, the City of Jonesboro, Liberty Bank, and ADFA.

The reality of owning her own home is still sinking in with Davis, who still has a lot of unpacking and organizing to do. She said she does not have a clue about decorating, so she is going to take it one room at a time.

But she does know that, with a little help, she was able to leave public assistance behind her.

"With my daughter, I just wanted to do better," she said. "It was just the fact that I wanted to get off of it."