Detroit cops who live in the suburbs are being offered renovated homes in the city for as little as $1,000 under a plan by Mayor Dave Bing to improve neighborhoods and safety.
The city will tap federal stimulus funds to fix up to 200 abandoned houses in the Boston-Edison and East English Village neighborhoods, Bing announced this morning.
More than half of the city's police officers and well over half of its firefighters live outside of the city, Bing said. The housing incentives will eventually be opened up to firefighters, and more neighborhoods will be included, Bing said.
Bing said a greater police presence will hinder crime and create a better relationship between cops and residents.
"We hope this serves as a call to action for other corporations, organizations and individuals to live where they work," Bing said. "Detroiters want to live in safe, clean neighborhoods. They deserve nothing less."
Police Chief Ralph Godbee applauded the mayor's initiative.
"Other mayors have given up, saying there isn't residency available," Godbee said. "We are so excited about this program."
The effort is part of the mayor's Public Works Project, which aims to reshape the city by encouraging residents to live in better neighborhoods that have not yet been identified.
For more than 80 years, police were required to live in the city until a state bill in 1999 revoked mandatory residency for municipal employees.
At the time, the move was heralded by some city firefighters and police officers who wanted to flee high insurance rates, rampant crime and poorly performing schools by moving to the suburbs.
Officer LaDawn Russell, 30, who moved out of Detroit to Oak Park in 2007, said she's considering a move back to East English Village, where she grew up. She said she moved out, in part, because of concerns with crime and safety.
"Around New Year's Eve, I don't hear gunshots," she said.
Russell, who works in the department's 12th Precinct, said she plans to look at homes in the Detroit neighborhood before making her decision.
"I'll have to see," she said.
Officer William Booker-Riggs, who spoke at the news conference, said he's also looking to move back to Detroit from Southfield, where he moved nine months ago. Booker-Riggs declined to say why he moved out of the city.
He said he's looking at available homes, some with three bedrooms, and said his daughter has already asked to have three bedrooms to herself.
The city plans to use up to $150,000 to buy and renovate each abandoned house for this and future incentives. Police are eligible for up to $25,000 to pay for the down payment, and their loans can be forgiven based on income and the cost of the house.
An officer who sells the house before an unspecified time period must sell it to another eligible family or pay back the remaining balance of the loan, according to the mayor's office.
The city is using $30 million of its $41 million from the Neighborhood Stabilization Fund, a federal program to revitalize neighborhoods, to pay for the renovations, down payments and forgivable loans. The other $11 million is being used to help lower-income residents buy houses.
The incentives won't cost the city a dime, Bing said.
"We hope this can be a model for the nation," the mayor said.
The Detroit City Council, which often is at odds with the mayor, expressed optimism that the plan will create cleaner and safer neighborhoods.
"Anytime we have people moving to Detroit, it's a great thing," Councilman James Tate, former spokesman of the police department, said. "The challenge will be making the move worthwhile to police officers. We definitely want to look at how the city council can help and make this plan as efficient as possible."
McClatchy-Tribune News Service