New Life Church pastor Matt Mosler has a vision to help with revitalization efforts in Pine Bluff by rehabilitating dilapidated properties within the city, then making a way for families who are living in poverty to purchase the houses while working on their way to self-sufficiency.
“The nuts and the bolts are that we are going to take the old, dilapidated homes that, when you look at them, they are old, they are worthless, and they are irredeemable,” Mosler said. “We want to take these once-nice homes, and we will gut them, tear them down to the studs, and we will rebuild them. Eventually, we will rent them to people in our church who are trying to move from poverty to self-sufficiency. We have got to rewire their mindsets.”
“As we are doing that, they will pay a certain amount per month for three-to-five years,” Mosler continued. “If they meet certain requirements, like they are active in church, they are active in the community – they are taking our self-improvement classes, financial literacy, or parenting classes – after three-to-five years, if they are paying their rent and doing those things, we will sell them the house for $25,000 or half of the appraised value.
“In a period of three-to-five years, you can go from poverty to having $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000 worth of equity in the bank and the house is yours.”
One house that is currently being rehabilitated is located at 2006 East 8th Avenue. The house has a solid foundation under it and has been stripped down to its shell. Reconstruction will begin soon. There is a plan in place to rehabilitate other houses on 8th Avenue as well, Mosler said.
“It isn’t just this one house on this street, we want to get five or six houses on this street,” he said. “If you surround yourself with community, accountability, inspiration and encouragement, you will transform the culture. Then we can move to another street and do it there.”
Mosler said he would like to see other churches in Pine Bluff get involved and help transform the culture here.
“It is difficult to do,” Mosler said, “but we think it is a pretty good model. Not only are we restoring Pine Bluff, but we are restoring people who many believe are broken, worthless and irredeemable.”
New Life Church does have some help with their projects. Mosler and his staff have struck a deal with the Pine Bluff School District to use students who are learning in shop class. Those students will work alongside professionals, allowing them to receive hands-on training in a real-world environment.
“We are going to work with the high school. They have a construction arts class, and we have been talking with the administrators,” Mosler said. “In the fall, we are trying to make it available to those kids where we will get them out here to work alongside of our professionals. We are going to pay carpenters, electricians, heating and air, and all of the professionals to do this, but they will work alongside these kids to help them (use) these skills.
“The kids will have to show up, they have to do the work, and they will get school credit. When they do, they will learn a work ethic, and another thing we are trying to do is secure an agreement where they can earn credit towards their apprenticeship in whatever field they are working in. Hopefully, we can (get) them sent off to (Southeast Arkansas) College where they can get their degree and realize they have some hope.”
Mosler shared the inspiration behind the project, saying that a house was purchased several years ago, and “in the process of looking for a house, we noticed the condition of the homes here. We began to zero in on a couple of big problems in Pine Bluff. The two big problems are the dissolution of the family and the lack of hope.
“In my opinion, the family has been targeted for destruction in communities like this. If you get the family in need, you can control them, but you also feed the mindset that leads to the bottom. Some folks get support from the government, but when they begin making strides to get out of poverty, they begin taking programs away, so it causes many of them to stay in need. We want to give them hope to get them out of this cycle, but we also want to rebuild homes and rebuild people. So, how do you address those two things?”
Mosler continued: “When we were looking for a house, the houses we liked we couldn’t afford, and the houses we could afford needed about $100,000 worth of work. So, how do you rebuild the work ethic? You restore the family. That is kind of how we fell into this. Maybe we could rebuild some of these houses, and maybe we could take back over the neighborhoods, but in the process we can teach some of the people in Pine Bluff the things they should have been learning that they didn’t get and that they didn’t know.
“In the process of doing that, we can put people in these homes where they can teach their kids the values. This may not be the solution, but we are going to give it a shot. It feeds into where you rebuild self-esteem, you rebuild hope, and you rebuild your future, while at the same time rebuilding communities.”
There have been some local companies come on board to help Mosler and New Life Church with the rehab projects.
“Big props to FBT Bank and Mortgage. They gave us a sizable donation to help us get started,” Mosler said. “They are going to help us out a little bit because a lot of the people we are going to put in these houses can’t get a bank account, and they don’t have a credit rating. So, we are going to work with FBT and any other bank who wants to help us out.
“One of the things we will do is when they pay rent – say it is $500 per month - $450 will go towards your rent, and the other $50 will go into a savings account set up for you. The banks will help us open these up. Carrington Electric is going to help us with electrical stuff, and then we have others. They are taking a step of faith just like we are.”
Mosler said that there will be incentives built in for people to earn more money that will be placed into their savings accounts.
“We will have incentives built in where, if your kids make the honor roll, we will put $50 into your savings account,” Mosler said. “If you complete classes we are offering, we will put $50 into your savings account. There are certain markers where with certain things you do to improve yourself and to get involved with the community we are going to add incentives, so when three-to-five years are up you have got a pretty good amount of money in savings. Now you can get your money to work for you.”
While Mosler noted that he would like to see other churches get involved with similar projects, he realizes that New Life Church will have to do some work to show it can be done before others get involved.
“We have got to do a lot of the reaching out. We don’t want to minister to the community, we want to minister with the community,” Mosler said.
“There is a big difference. We don’t want to come in on a high horse saying ‘We are helping this poor community out.’ We want to work with others. If there is a program that can help this community out, we don’t want to recreate it, we want to work with them and we want to enhance.
“There are a lot of churches here who I think have the ability to do this. What we hope to do when we get this project done is we hope to have a nice template that we can pass along to others. A lot of people talk about what they want to do, but taking that first step is a big step of faith. This may fail miserably. I don’t think it will because we think it can be successful. We have plans to duplicate this on other streets. If we can get other businesses, other churches and other ministries to come in and say ‘Hey, they are fixing this part up, we are going to fix another house up.’
“There is a verse in Proverbs that says the seeds of good deeds produces the tree of life. The more you replicate that the next thing you know is you have a tree that is producing good fruit. That is the hope we have here.”