By Dolores Harrington

Nine proud homeowners are settled into their brand new condominiums at Lucas Gardens. Not only are they first-time home buyers, they are all over 40.

The residents of the project are clients of Group Living Inc., and they are fulfilling Group Living’s goal to help developmentally disabled persons reach their highest level of independence. The majority of the new homeowners live completely independently; a few require assistance from live-in companions.

Jimmy Shaw is obviously happy with his new quarters, and provided a guided tour to show off his pleasantly furnished condo. He likes everything about it, he said. When asked what his favorite feature is, he said all of it is “nice.”

Shaw had previously lived in an apartment with a companion. “Jason got married,” he said. The construction of the condos provided him with a place to live. He’s very comfortable, and said he enjoys using the ceiling fan in his bedroom at night.

He also likes to sit in the rocker on his front porch and enjoys watching television and movies, thanks to his entertainment center. “I got me a Johnny Cash movie,” he said.

Donna Lee, another condo resident, works at least five days each week at Bowen’s Restaurant. “I bus tables, carry the plates to the line. It’s hard to clean the tables sometimes,” she said. “Some of our customers are messy.”

Lee has been a Group Living client since 1977, and has worked at the restaurant almost that long. She sometimes works six or seven days a week if she’s needed. She said, of her new home, “It’s nice. I like it.” She plans to use the smooth top range in the kitchen as soon as someone explains “all those buttons” to her.

Joint effort arranged financing

The new homeowners were able to finance their condos through a program of the 2025 Commission. The funds, from a Housing and Urban Development equity buy down program, were applied for by the commission following the 1997 tornado that devastated much of downtown Arkadelphia.

The buy down program provided funds for loans so that persons who lost their houses in the tornado could replace them. The commission had funds left over, and those were available to the Lucas Gardens homeowners.

With the help of Elk Horn Bank and Southern Financial Partners, the loan applicants were qualified to participate in the buy down program. “We approved the eligible applicants, factoring in the equity buy down program, and provided the information to the 2025 Commission,” Shelley Loe, vice president of commercial lending for SFP.

“Part of the mission of Elk Horn Bank and Southern Financial Partners is to provide unique financing to invest into the community.” She said the financing for the homeowners was a special project. “The fact was taken into account that we were helping developmentally disabled persons.”

In addition to their income from other sources, most of the Lucas Gardens condo owners are employed, either with Group Living enterprises or in the community. They also qualify for assistance from the Arkadelphia Housing Authority (AHA).

Fred Hatley, executive director of the AHA, said the owners of the condos had qualified for rental assistance before buying their homes. “They had their own places, and the AHA subsidized their rent. When they bought their houses, that went toward their house payment.”

He said the fact that all the clients live in the same housing project makes the subsidy easier for the AHA. “We forward all of that to Elk Horn Bank, which forwards it to be applied to their loans. It was easier to have them all together.”

In addition to Hatley, Phillip Noel, the AHA section 8 manager, and Quintin Radford, home ownership coordinator, worked to arrange the help with the approval of the condo owners’ loans.

Paul Shuffield, community development officer for SFP, said, “Lucas Gardens not only fulfilled the dream of home ownership for the residents, but it is a wonderful example of overall community cooperation.

“Several organizations, both public and private and for-profit and non-profit, worked together to successfully complete this project. Just imagine the progress that would result if we applied the same cooperation to other areas of the community.”

Old friends live side by side

Kathy Smith and Gary Egger have been friends for a long time, and their new condos are right next door to each other. Egger has lived alone previously, but the condo is the first home he’s owned. He has worked at the Bee Hive for about 20 years, and he said, “I miss my old store.”

The building that housed the Bee Hive was destroyed by a fire a few weeks ago, and has moved to a new location. Egger helps shelve clothing in the store and sorts clothes as they are received.

“I like it here,” Egger said of his new condo. He cooks his meals and does his own laundry. When he’s at home, he spends much of his time watching Elvis Presley movies – he owns every one Presley made.

His favorite room in his home is a bedroom he calls “The King’s Room.” It contains Presley memorabilia, including a photo of him and Elvis. He leaves no doubt about how he feels about his longtime friend, Kathy. “She’s the greatest girl in the world.”

“I work at Ouachita,” said Kathy Smith, who has lived in Arkadelphia for 30 years. She works in the Commons at the university. “I clean tables. I do everything.”

Smith enjoys her condo, she said. “I love it. Everything. My favorite is the bedroom and in here (the living area).” She got a new chair when she moved into the condo, and insisted on a hide-a-bed sofa.

She said she enjoys watching movies and eating lunch at the Lucas Gardens club house. She and Egger have known each other since they were children. “We went together a long time.”

Each of the condos, which is a little more than 1,000 square feet in area, includes two bedrooms and two baths. The second bedroom is for the use of a caretaker for the owner if one is necessary or becomes necessary. One bathroom, and the shower in it, is wheelchair-accessible.

The living area has a sitting area, dining area and kitchen. A laundry room opens off the kitchen, and a large outside storage room is at one end of each front porch. A special feature is a closet that is built for use as a “safe room” in the event of severe storms or tornadoes.

The condo owners are obviously happy with their new homes. Lee said that since she’s been in Arkadelphia, she’s lived in several different places. She wanted a house of her own, she said, “so I hope I don’t have to move no more.”
Dennis Mills, director of projects and development for Group Living, expressed the feelings of the organization. “We appreciate the support from the City of Arkadelphia that made this project possible. Observing our clients fulfilling the dream of home ownership is an important goal of our organization.”
The Friday edition of the Siftings Herald will include a story about the resident of the 10th condominium in Lucas Gardens.