$3 million program would help police, fire, paramedics buy city homes

SHARE $3 million program would help police, fire, paramedics buy city homes

Vacant housing on the city’s Westside earlier this year. The city is considering a plan to help police officers, firefighters and paramedics purchase homes in some Chicago neighborhoods in need of an economic boost. | Getty Images

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday took a page out of former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s playbook, creating a $3 million program to help up to 100 police officers, firefighters and paramedics purchase homes in “targeted” Chicago neighborhoods.

Daley did the same thing in the early 1990’s with only mixed results. The program was championed by Daley’s then-Budget Director Paul Vallas, who would go on to become CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Vallas is now a top administrator at Chicago State University.

Now, Emanuel is offering up his own “public safety officer homebuyer assistance” program in a two-fold effort to improve public safety in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence and rebuild long-neglected inner-city neighborhoods.

“We’re adding 1,000 new officers over the next two years… We’re making an unprecedented effort in recruiting minority cadets to join both the Police and Fire Department,” the mayor said Wednesday.

“My goal on the housing initiative is to encourage those police, EMT and firefighters to live in our challenging neighborhoods … because one of the important things is to help stabilize the neighborhood with good, middle-class jobs.”

The mayor said he has worked hard to make “key economic investments” — in parks, libraries and public transportation — in long-neglected neighborhoods like Woodlawn, Bronzeville, Pullman and Little Village.

He has also worked to attract grocery stores and other retail to long-vacant commercial strips so those inner-city neighborhoods can “not only stabilize, but flourish.”

The housing initiative has “that same thrust,” the mayor said.

Emanuel noted that many of the eligible officers will be young and new to their departments. That creates “stability” in home ownership and makes “challenging” neighborhoods more safe, he said.

The ordinance introduced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting would tap the Affordable Housing Fund to provide up to $3 million of home buying assistance — enough for “10-year, forgivable loans of $30,000” 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.

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.

Before introducing the ordinance, Emanuel said he talked to County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who’s championing a similar plan that would give police officers homes, provided they agree to live there for five years.

“It’s two different approaches to the same goal line,” the mayor said.

“I admire and applaud his efforts. We, at the city, are gonna do it this way. It doesn’t mean that one way is right or wrong.”

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 as 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.

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