Atlanta approves $500K for housing incentives for police officers, firefighters
The city council will use American Rescue Plan Act funds to help first responders live where they serve
By Riley Bunch
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
ATLANTA — Atlanta City Council members approved a plan to donate $500,000 of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Atlanta Police Foundation to pay for housing incentives for the city’s public safety officials.
The plan was proposed by Mayor Andre Dickens last month and passed unanimously by the council on Monday.
The Atlanta Police Foundation, with help from the Atlanta Apartment Association, will oversee the money, which will be distributed as a housing subsidy to first responders as an incentive to live near the area they serve.
Atlanta City Councilman Amir Farokhi, who sponsored the legislative effort, told the AJC that the incentive program is one way COVID-19 relief dollars can be used to try to address crime that spiked during the pandemic.
“I think this is appropriate because it makes for stronger neighborhoods and a more safe city,” he said. “If we can have our firefighters and police officers living in the city it helps them better understand the fabric of the neighborhoods they work in and builds relationships that I think benefit us all.
During his first year, Dickens pledged to bolster the city’s public safety resources to address high rates of violent crime. The housing incentives join an array of other plans to support first responders, like retention bonuses for police officers that also utilize American Rescue Plan funds.
Farokhi said that while the money is for one-time use, if the program is successful, the council and the mayor’s office could talk about using general fund dollars to extend it.
“We hear from officers and firefighters all the time, particularly younger ones, that they want to live in the city but they feel priced out,” he said. “And that’s even when we’ve been increasing salaries of fire and police to be market leaders in the metro area.”
An Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year found that the Atlanta Police Foundation is one of the most powerful U.S. police foundation organizations in the county.
The nonprofit is also leasing the land where the city is building a new training center for Atlanta’s police officers and firefighters. The foundation is leading the $90-million project and contributing two-thirds of the construction funds.
One Atlanta resident expressed frustration with the allocation of funds to the Atlanta Police Foundation amid the controversy surrounding the planned public safety training center in DeKalb County.
“We have citizens in Atlanta and your districts who are houseless right now,” Lalita Martin said. “I do not see how housing for the police can be a priority right now. No matter your views on policing.”
Farokhi defended the city’s partnership with the foundation.
“We’ve been working on this housing program for almost a year and a half now and the Police Foundation was the entity that was best able to administer this for both fire, police and corrections, in partnership with the land Apartment Association,” he said. “It could have been any number of nonprofits, we felt they were best placed to do this with our public safety departments.”
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