Changing lanes increases access to affordable and reliable transport
Without a car, Joshua Hobson would not only jeopardize his job but, above all, jeopardize his independence.
Along with work, the lack of transportation “adds to the stress of not knowing who will be picking you up or what time,” Hobson said.
As a resident of Fort Smith, Hobson knows firsthand the hardships faced by many townspeople.
“In Fort Smith you really can’t get around without a vehicle,” he said. “It’s one of those cities where you can’t cycle everywhere or walk everywhere. ”
He relied on his family and friends to drive him to and from his full-time job at a local liquor store; until his girlfriend, Allison Ousley, told him about Changing Lanes.
A ministry from the First Presbyterian Church, Changing Lanes “puts the customer in a reliable vehicle to help them get to work and to help them rebuild their credit and become financially healthy.” So when he buys his next car, we hope their credit will be so much better that they can get a traditional loan, ”said Keley Simpson, mission facilitator for the church.
Inspired by personal experience
Simpson, who has lived in Fort Smith all of his life, has faced problems with dishonest auto companies and his sister “has been exploited by a dishonest dealership,” she said.
“It’s something that was close to my heart, so in a meeting with one of our pastors, Reverend Phillip Blackburn, we talked about what we can do to help our community. ”
Recognizing the difficulties that people with low credit face in obtaining traditional loans to buy a car, the church created Changing Lanes to “encourage people to be self-sufficient,” said Simpson. Since its launch in 2016, the program has helped 15 people.
In a 2019 study on poverty in Fort Smith conducted by the Urban Institute, researchers found that residents of Sebastian County spent 31% of their income on transportation. Residents interviewed also said the public transportation system “made it difficult to access jobs and food in grocery stores or pantries.”
Arkansas advocates have also found that transportation can create barriers to after-school child care and child care for working families.
“We wanted to try and give people the alternative of buying a car that they can afford, that isn’t going to break down on them to help them get to work,” Simpson said. “… Part of the reason some people don’t work is lack of transportation or they lose their jobs because they’re always late for work or can’t get to work.” ”
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Take the road
Changing lanes begins with assessing the applicant and their situation.
“Obviously they have to live in the River Valley area, they have to have a current driver’s license, they can’t have recent DUIs or DWIs (and) they have to be employed,” Simpson said.
Once the client is selected, a committee reviews the request, determines the loan amount, and ensures that the person can repay the loan. They must also have full insurance and open an account with the First National Bank, which handles loans for the church.
“It’s not a lucrative program,” Simpson said. “Our interest rate is around 1.7-2%. That’s a really low interest rate. You usually have to have great credit to get such a good interest rate.”
Customers can use their loan to purchase a car from two local dealerships, Rath Auto Resources and Harry Robinson Buick GMC, who have partnered with First Presbyterian Church and “agreed they would only give us their most reliable vehicles.” Simpson said.
“They are having their mechanics checked and seeing if there is any repair work to be done,” she said. “They’re not going to give the customer a car that’s going to break down on them. We have a relationship of trust with them.
“It’s hard to find a high quality, inexpensive car, really, really hard,” said Larry Rath, president of Rath Auto Resources. “So (the church) warns us, and we go hunting, to try to find something for them, to do our best.”
Customers can also purchase a car that has been donated to church by a member of the congregation or community if one is available. These vehicles are checked by mechanics before sale.
“The good thing is that some of our customers come in… let’s say $ 2,000 is all they can afford,” Simpson said. “Well, every time it’s a car that’s donated to the program, it allows our loan committee to set the price, which really helps someone who is really on the lower end of the spectrum in terms of income. . ”
More than just a car
Changing Lanes goes beyond providing affordable auto loans, working with people with bad credit histories to improve their financial well-being.
Through a partnership with Credit Counseling of Arkansas, clients are required to complete a budget counseling session and a credit check.
“It’s very beneficial for this client to visit with CCOA, and of course their budget plan, they’re now going to have car payment, insurance, plus their regular expenses, so they need to be prepared for that,” Simpson said. . .
Mark Foster, director of education for Credit Counseling of Arkansas, enjoys working with people “to financially navigate their lives.”
“We don’t do cookie-cutter advice,” Foster said. “Every person’s situation is different, so we take a look at what’s going on in your life, what’s going on with your finances, and help people with that and give them the education they need as well as feedback and feedback. expert analyzes. ”
A sense of independence
Thanks to Changing Lanes, Hobson first bought a car in March 2020. After an accident, he joined the program and bought another car on September 18th.
Faced with financial hardship due to medical bills, Hobson said the program “gives you the right deal for someone who is in my position to build credit,” he said.
“I definitely have a better sense of independence,” Hobson said. “There isn’t that overwhelming feeling of ‘How can I get there and back? “… It helps your time management. It helps your confidence, all of it.”
In addition to having access to new opportunities, the program is a starting point for self-reliance and responsibility.
“Our goal is not for them to keep coming back to church, but maybe he sees us as a starter program for people who have had really bad things that affected their credit history. “said Simpson.
“Some people have asked us, ‘Why don’t you just make free cars? “Well, that’s not teaching a man how to fish,” she said. “You have to have your skin in the game… to enjoy something, to feel like it’s really yours. ”
About the lane change
To apply or learn more about Changing Lanes, call First Presbyterian Church, 8:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 479-783-8919 and speak with Assignment Facilitator Keley Simpson.
Catherine Nolte is a member of the body of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms. She can be contacted at [email protected] Southwest Times Record and Report for America are working to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations across the country. Are you supporting this effort today?