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Detroit Uses Stimulus Money to Lure Residents With $1,000 Homes

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Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is desperately trying to bring residents back to the Motor City, starting with civil servants . In one of his first major steps to bolster select Detroit neighborhoods, the mayor announced this week that he plans to lure at least 200 police officers back to the city by offering renovated abandoned homes for as little as $1,000 each.

About 53 percent of Detroit's 2,845 police officers currently live outside Detroit.  The exodus of officers began  in 1999 when the state revoked mandatory residency for the city's municipal employees, allowing police to live where they wanted.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Bing plans to use $30 million of federal stimulus money to purchase and refurbish abandoned houses in select neighborhoods. The city reportedly plans to spend up to $150,000 to renovate each home.  Additionally, officers will be eligible to receive up to $25,000 for a down payment on a city home, though many homes will come down-payment free with forgivable loans and energy-efficient construction.

Officer LaDawn Russell, who left Detroit for Oak Park in 2007, in part for her children, is considering moving back. "Around New Year's Eve, I don't hear gunshots" in Oak Park, said Russell, 30.

Residents of the neighborhoods and officers responded positively. By Monday evening, about 50 officers had inquired about the program, according to the mayor's office.

"I think for any neighborhood, whether it's in Detroit or outside of the area, to know that there are professional public safety officials in the community is always a sense of comfort," said Pamela Miller Malone, president of the Historic Boston-Edison Association.

By offering special home-ownership programs to police officers, Bing hopes to combine plans to boost the city's population and tax base while deterring rampant crime.

"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."

The city's new plan comes on the heels of a similar proposals from Wayne State University, Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Health System which all recently offered cash incentives to about 30,000 employees to move into Detroit's Midtown area.

If more federal funds become available, Bing said he'd like to extend a similar offer to firefighters, most of whom live in the city's suburbs.

"We will beg for additional dollars," Bing said, adding that no city tax money will be used to relocate police.

The new housing incentives are just one part of Bing's Public Works Program which he says could be a "model for the nation" -- an ironic choice of words since Detroit was once one of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "model cities" which has received billions of federal dollars for urban renewal in recent decades to fight the so-called War on Poverty.

"We are so excited about this program," Police Chief Ralph Godbee said.

But some officers aren't taking the bait.  Officer Randall Coleman, who currently lives outside Detroit, said that moving into Detroit might mean working "24 hours a day."

While insurance costs are high and school performance low, some look at the large homes available and see the offer as too good to be true.

Officer William Booker-Riggs said he plans to move back to Detroit from Southfield, where he moved about nine months ago for reasons he wouldn't explain. He said he is impressed with the large homes in the targeted areas and joked that his daughter has already asked to have her own three bedrooms.

Another irony: the neighborhoods reserved for the police relocation program are considered to be the safest in the city, patrolled regularly by private security companies.

The city of Detroit received $41 million from the stimulus' Neighborhood Stabilization Fund.  The other $11 million is reportedly going to help lower-income resident purchase homes.

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