Communities Unlimited Housing, Lending, and Environmental team members with Codney Washington of WE Build at the Grand Opening of DreamBuild.

Pine Bluff, Arkansas, located where flat farmland meets the Mississippi Delta, has a rich cultural history. Blues artists including Bobby Rush and Elmore James and Jazz great Miles Davis got their start in Pine Bluff, known as the “Gateway to the Delta.” Like the Mississippi Delta and other predominantly Black small towns and cities in the South, however, a decline in economic growth, and a history of redlining and other discriminatory practices have hurt the quality of life in the Pine Bluff area. As a result, the community is grappling with an aging housing stock and a decline in population over the last few decades. 

In Pine Bluff, 32.90 % of the population rent their homes, with an average home vacancy rate of 19.07%. Renters have reported housing problems such as incomplete kitchen facilities, incomplete plumbing facilities, more than one person per room, and a cost burden greater than 30%. Communities Unlimited, a nonprofit serving rural communities across the South and an Enterprise Section 4 grantee, is working to provide affordable housing options to the Pine Bluff community. 
 
Bringing Revitalization and Affordable Modular Homes to Arkansas

Communities Unlimited has partnered with We Center We Build (WE Center) and come. dream.come.build (CDCB) to implement the DreamBuild modular housing model and bring a workforce training program to Pine Bluff to help advance affordable housing and economic growth. DreamBuild, formerly known as MiCASiTA, was a 2020 winner of the Housing Affordability Breakthrough Challenge, a national housing innovation competition made possible with the support of the Wells Fargo Foundation. 

Centering their pilot program in Pine Bluff, Communities Unlimited has included wraparound services, such as pre-purchase education and homeownership counseling, to ensure there is a pipeline of households ready to purchase homes. They have broken ground on their first pilot modular home with plans to construct nine additional homes in 2024. 

Homes will model cdcb's work in the Rio Grande valley, with a few changes to meet the aesthetics and particular needs of the Arkansas Delta. These homes will start with three bedrooms and will complement the revitalization effort on the West side of the city. A partnership with the WE Center – a nonprofit based in Pine Bluff – will also address the needs of surrounding existing homes. The repair and rehab program will be part of WE Center’s vocational and technical training programs that prepare youth for future careers. 

In Arkansas and even in Pine Bluff, homeownership is the preferred method of housing, and we want to make sure people who are low to moderate income weren't priced out of homeownership or forced into homes that weren't of quality or inhabitable because that was all that was available in their price range to purchase.

Audra Butler, area director of Rural Housing, Communities Unlimited

Communities Unlimited is using their Section 4 grant — a nonprofit capacity building program made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) —to increase staff capacity to enhance their wraparound services. This includes identifying and qualifying homebuyers, conducting pre-purchase education courses, offering housing counseling to prepare families for mortgages, and accelerating their timeline to move potential buyers more efficiently through the pipeline.