Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Lt. Mozelle Gipson spoke Monday at an event promoting a city program that helps emergency responders with home-buying costs.

Gipson is the first recipient of the funds.

In the 2018 city budget, a total of $50,000 was allocated from the five-eighths cent Go Forward Pine Bluff sales tax to fund the program, which will allow uniformed police and firefighters to receive a no interest/no payment second loan in the amount of either $5,000 or $10,000 that can be used for any combination of down payments, along with some of the other costs associated with buying a home.

Homes that are located in the Urban Renewal Area, made up of the city center, will be eligible for a $10,000 loan.

“My wife and I closed on our house last Monday,” Gispson told the group made up of local lenders and city officials, including Mayor Shirley Washington.

“Everything happened so fast. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity.”

Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Lt. Mozell Gipson, left, is introduced by Pine Bluff Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell at an event Monday promoting a city program that gives financial assistance to first responders. Gipson is the first recipient of the funds.

The idea was rolled out during a meeting of the council’s Public Safety Committee earlier this year, and Police Chief Kelvin Sergeant said that “It’s important to do this to get officers to buy homes instead of renting. If they buy, they’re less likely to leave and invest in the community. Some of them don’t have the upfront expenses necessary and this will make it possible.”

Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said he had also been briefed on the program and was on board.

“We all agreed it’s a good program,” Howell said.

Pine Bluff Century 21 agent Marty Reed told those gathered about the benefits of owning a home versus renting one.

“You’re just throwing your money away when you could be building equity in your own property,” Reed said of the advantages of buying a home. “Also, statistics show that crime is higher in areas where there are a lot of rental properties. Buying is essential to your success in the future.”

The homes must be single-family residences and must be used as the primary residence of the officer or firefighter. Standard credit regulations will apply, but assistance will be available for non-automatic qualifiers through secondary market lenders and credit repair assistance. The money will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, and if the money currently in the budget runs out, a waiting list will be established.

Interested officers may submit an application to their chief, and each department will set their own criteria for approving the applications.

Down payments and closing costs will be structured as a zero interest five-year forgivable loan, and those receiving loans will be required to serve as an officer for five years for the loans to be forgiven. If an officer who has received a loan is fired or quits, they will be responsible for paying it back.

The proposal came out of the Public-Private Review Committee established by Washington and is a part of one of the 27 recommendations that made up the Go Forward Pine Bluff program. One of those was to retain the quality and professionalism of first responders through effective recruiting, continuing education and competitive salaries.

For next year, the recommendation is that $100,000 of the sales tax money be allocated for the program, with 90 percent of that going to the program itself and the remaining 10 percent to pay for the administration of the program, which will be facilitated through the City of Pine Bluff Department of Economic and Community Development.