Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to “stabilize” high-crime neighborhoods by offering police officers and firefighters “forgivable loans” to purchase homes cleared a key hurdle Tuesday.
The City Council’s Housing Committee signed off on the mayor’s plan to tap the Affordable Housing Fund to provide up to $3 million of home buying assistance — enough for 10-year loans of $30,000 the city would forgive to 100 police officers, firefighters and paramedics.
To qualify, public safety officers must secure a mortgage from a private lender to buy a single-family home or two-flat that would become their primary residence. They also must agree to live in the homes for the entire 10-year period.
If not, they would be required to repay $3,000 for every year of the 10 years that they don’t live there.
The income ceiling would be 150 percent of the median area income. That’s roughly $82,950 a year for single officers and $118,500 a year for a family of four. That would essentially confine the assistance to younger officers.
The homes being purchased would need to be located in parts of six police districts that need both the economic shot in the arm and the added safety that comes with having police officers, firefighters and paramedics as residents.
Those neighborhoods include parts of Auburn-Gresham; Austin; Brighton Park; Chatham; East and West Garfield Park; Englewood and West Englewood; Gage Park; Greater Grand Crossing; Humboldt Park; New City, and North and South Lawndale.
Anthony Simpkins, managing deputy of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said the goal is to encourage police officers in high-crime neighborhoods like Austin and Englewood to “live and have a stake in the communities they serve.”
The hope is that will improve the frayed relationship between citizens and police, he said.
“If it is a successful program that has the kind of impact we’re hoping it’ll have, it’s not gonna transform these communities by itself. But it’s an important part of wider efforts to help stabilize and revitalize these communities,” Simpkins said. “If it has the intended effect, then of course, we will be looking to expand the program and get additional resources.”
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) urged Emanuel to extend the incentive to “other areas that are now considered to be Tier 2 police districts.”
“There is crime being experienced in those districts. I call those communities ‘on the bubble.’ You want to be able to keep families in those communities. The extent to which the city shows its interest in putting resources in that community is very important,” Dowell said.
Ald. Michael Scott (24th) questioned how the city would “police the police” and make certain that officers are not “getting this $30,000, getting a home and renting it out.”
“This is an important program — especially in a community like mine where there is violence on a day-to-day basis. To make sure that we have first responders there engaging with the community goes a long way to bridge the gap that we currently have between community and police, but also to stabilize communities like north Lawndale and East and West Garfield where it is desperately need,” Scott said. “I’d just like to see what that verification process is. . . . It’s sometimes easy to verify and say that I live here if you have mail and those sort of things going” there.
Simpkins replied, “We run a large number of single-family programs with the same issue. We have an annual verification process that we go through to verify that they, in fact, still own the home and still live there.”
Former Mayor Richard M. Daley tried a similar incentive in the early 1990s, with only mixed results.
Chicago Police officers buying homes for the first time in nine low- or moderate income neighborhoods were given $5,000 subsidies and required to make a down payment of just 3 percent of the purchase price.
Emanuel’s plan is more generous in hopes that the incentive will be enough to lure a fresh crop of newly hired police officers to buy homes in areas plagued by gang violence.
Over the years, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 have pushed for the city to lift the residency requirement that mandates city employees, including public safety workers, to live in Chicago.
Emanuel has strongly resisted those efforts — even though one of his 2011 mayoral challengers, Gery Chico, embraced the idea of lifting the residency rule and was promptly endorsed by the police and fire unions.
Newly elected FOP President Kevin Graham just might raise the issue again after surviving his own residency controversy.
Graham could not be reached for comment — either about the homeowners’ incentive or about the residency rule.