Detroit Offers Incentives to Police, Firefighters to Move into the City

Published June 18, 2011

When Detroit’s census figures were released earlier this year, the results were startling even to city officials. Over the past decade, the population had declined 25 percent, to just over 713,000 persons—the city’s lowest population since 1910. At its peak in 1950, Detroit’s population was 1.8 million.

Mayor Dave Bing hopes to stop the decline by offering incentives for police officers and firefighters to move back into Detroit.

Recently Bing announced Project 14, a program using $30 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds to give Detroit police officers and firefighters up to $25,000 for a down payment on a renovated house in select neighborhoods. There is also the possibility of loan forgiveness, depending on the cost of the house and the participant’s income. In return, officers need contribute only $1,000 to the down payment.

Spending $150K for $40K Houses
Additionally, up to $150,000 will be spent per house on renovations. The city is limiting the plan to homes in select neighborhoods known for having better schools. According to the city’s Web site, officials expect that after the renovations have been completed, the houses will appraise for $40,000 to $80,000 based on current market conditions.

“Detroiters want to live in safe, stable neighborhoods, and they deserve no less,” Bing said. “This is just step one of many things that we think we’re going to have to involve ourselves in as we bring our city back.”

Before 1999, police officers and other municipal employees were required to live within the city limits. That year the Michigan legislature abolished an 80-year old residency law so employees could seek better neighborhoods in the suburbs.

More Than Half in Suburbs
According to city officials, at least 53 percent of Detroit’s 3,000 police officers live in the suburbs. The percentage is higher for firefighters.

“Our residents have told us loud and clear about the challenges that their neighborhoods face as more homes have become vacant and abandoned, threatening the stability and safety of our community,” Police Chief Ralph Godbee said. “What we’re looking for is moving back to some normalcy in police-community relations.”

Although police officers on hand for Bing’s press conference said Project 14 is the right program to entice them to move back to Detroit, not everyone is sold on it.

Some Skeptical
Angela Beauford, a former Detroit firefighter, moved to the suburbs in the late 1990s for a safer environment for her family.

“Honestly, there is nothing they can offer me to move back unless the educational system is a lot better than what it is,” she told the AOL Real Estate Web site.

Sally Bryson, a Detroit-area realtor, said she believes there will be little interest.

“There’s more than just financial incentives involved and even public safety. Detroit needs better schools as well as good stores, movie theaters, and recreational activities to entice folks to move back into the city,” she said.

Detroit realtor Michael McClure disagreed.

Others Optimistic
“I like Mayor Bing’s Project 14 because it potentially accomplishes two positive things. One, it provides a small measure of foothold in terms of real estate stability, and no matter how small that turns out to be, it will help. Two, it gives those law enforcement personnel a larger incentive to care about the overall quality of life in the city of Detroit. What the city needs is an influx of caring residents. Project 14 would clearly help on that level,” he said.

Detroit City Council Councilwoman Brenda Jones was more critical.

“They [police officers and firefighters] can’t afford private schools; they can’t afford the taxes, the insurance, and the utility costs,” she said.

Bing said he hopes homes will be ready for move-in by the end of the summer. His office reports approximately 200 police officers and firefighters have inquired about Project 14.

About two months after unveiling the program in February, Bing announced several additional neighborhoods had been added to the Project 14 list.

Nick Baker ([email protected]) writes from Washington, DC.