The sale of a mobile home and property by the city of Pine Bluff to a family that has previously occupied the home rent free for a number of years has not yet been completed because city council approval is required, city officials said Thursday.

The sale of a mobile home and property by the city of Pine Bluff to a family that has previously occupied the home rent free for a number of years has not yet been completed because city council approval is required, city officials said Thursday.

City Economic and Community Development Director Donald Sampson said the Sept. 30 closing date listed on the real estate contract for 5421 W. Short 4th Ave. did not mark the finalization of the sale, as previously reported in The Commercial. Instead, paperwork with the title continued, and now the department is asking the Pine Bluff City Council for approval, after which the sale will be finalized, Sampson said.

The issue was discussed Thursday in a meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council Economic and Community Development Committee, where aldermen ultimately chose to table the item for further study.

Alderman Thelma Walker, chairman of the committee, expressed doubts about the deal as a whole and said she would not vote to recommend to the full council a proposed resolution allowing the city to finalize the sale.

Alderman George Stepps asked for ECD department staff to go over all the paperwork and details with him so that he has a clear understanding of the situation. Stepps said it is important for him to be able to explain the situation in his interactions with the public, because members of the public are asking why this particular family was allowed to live rent-free in the house for so many years, while there is a waiting list for other services and programs managed by the ECD Department.

Alderman Glen Brown is also on the committee, but did not state an opinion for or against the proposal during the meeting.

Sampson and assistant to the mayor Ted Davis urged the committee to vote in favor of moving the item along to the full council. Walker said that the sale has been pending for many years and that waiting few more weeks while aldermen research the matter won’t hurt.

Davis disagreed, saying that the Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr. administration has followed the matter since coming into office and is eager to see it resolved.

When the committee still decided to table the item, Davis urged ECD staff to give aldermen copies of the whole file of information on the deal.

The Commercial filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the same information in September, wrote an article and made all the documents provided by the city available on its website.

According to those documents, the Little Rock office for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was aware of the rent-free housing arrangement and had advised the city against evicting the tenants when several years ago they lost their ability to follow through with the original arrangement to purchase the home.

The real estate contract with the Sept. 30 closing date had been signed by all parties involved. The price was redacted, but $25,000 was hand written above the space for the price. That price also appears on several other documents.

The name of the buyer was redacted from the real estate contract, but previous legislation that has come before the Pine Bluff City Council has identified the buyer as Linda Cole.

In a letter dated Aug. 27, 2008, James E. Slater with the Little Rock HUD Office responded to a letter from Sampson inquiring as to what the city should do with the family after they lost the ability to purchase the home.

“We have reviewed the situation as explained in your letter, and it is our opinion that there have been no violations of the rules governing the HOME program (whose funds were used to purchase the property),” Slater said in the letter. “The situation came about as a result of trying to help this family secure housing to avoid becoming homeless. Since the city has options with regard to what to do with this property, it is our opinion that allowing them to remain in the home, to avoid becoming homeless, serves the original purpose for which the transaction took place.”

Slater goes on to recommend several options before reiterating his advice that the family should not be evicted.

A memo from Sampson indicates that Cole initially approached the city for assistance purchasing a home in June 2001.

The Pine Bluff City Council Economic and Community Development Committee recommended assisting with the purchase of the home in 2002, recommending that the funds come out of 2003 HUD funds, according to committee minutes. In December 2004, the full City Council approved a resolution authorizing the city to sell the property to Cole.

The mobile home was purchased in January 2005 but the work to move it to the site was not done until May 2006, according to an April 2008 memo from Sampson to Redus.

The family was evicted from its previous home in November 2006 and moved into the city-owned property, Sampson stated in a May 2008 letter. The family lost its income, and the arrangement to sell the property to the family could no longer move forward. Thinking the situation was temporary, a lease agreement was drawn up, Sampson stated in the letter.

Documents obtained in the FOI request include two lease agreements. One for Oct. 1, 2008, through March 31, 2009, sets the monthly lease amount as $150. The second agreement for April 1, 2009, to March 31, 2010, sets the monthly lease amount as $0. Sampson said in September 2011 that the family was not paying rent.

The family did volunteer work in exchange for utility payments, according to the April 2008 Sampson memo.

Sampson said in a September article that this was the only case in Pine Bluff of someone living rent-free in a city-owned home.

The topic first arose when the Rev. Jesse Turner asked publicly about the house at the Sept. 6 Pine Bluff City Council meeting.

A memo dated Sept. 8 from Sampson to Redus requested that the sale of the property move forward. According to that memo, the family’s income was restored in February 2011.

A Good Faith Estimate document included in the FOI response also listed the price as $25,000, with $2,335.80 in closing costs for a total of $27,335.80. The document lists the total monthly payment as $198.65, the interest rate as 3 percent and the term as 360 months.

On some of the documents, the property’s address is listed as 5416 W. Short 4th Ave. The address was changed after the mobile home was moved to the site, according to the documents.

The city paid $241.44 in taxes on the property in 2009 and 2010, for a total of $482.88. From 2006 to 2008, the property was non-income-earning and exempt from taxes, according to the Jefferson County Collector’s Office. Tax records dating back further were unavailable.