Ga. officers will get paid to purchase homes

Foreclosure crisis creates opportunity; $2.5 million allocated for cops, other sworn 'first responders.'

By Ty Tagami
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DeKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The foreclosure crisis is creating an investment opportunity for police officers and other emergency personnel who want to live and work in DeKalb County.

DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis announced a new program Monday that will use federal stimulus funds to help county personnel buy foreclosed homes in DeKalb.

The program has earmarked $1.5 million for police officers and another $1 million for firefighters, sheriff's deputies and other sworn "first responders."

It will provide a subsidy of $14,150 for those who stay in a home at least five years and $25,000 for those who remain a decade. It aims to stabilize neighborhoods dragged down by foreclosures while also assisting with the recruitment and retention of officers.

As of August, there were 7,000 foreclosed homes in DeKalb County, said Chris Morris, the county director of Human and Community Development.

Ellis, standing outside DeKalb's public safety complex in Tucker, said an increase in the number of police officers living within the county also would serve as "a deterrent to anti-social behavior that we see spreading throughout our community."

Several neighborhood leaders expressed support for the measure.

Ann Brown, president of the Belvedere Civic Club, which represents a neighborhood south of Decatur, said the bad economy has caused several foreclosures in her area. The home across the street from her is vacant, she said, and squatters have moved into other empty houses. Last month, a triple homicide in the area left a 3-year-old dead.

"I am excited about this," she said of the program. "I would definitely feel safe having an officer living across the street."

The money comes from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is pumping tens of millions of dollars in federal grants into Georgia's economy.

Morris said the buyer-incentive program for officers is modeled after a statewide program for the general public that proved popular. She said there is a potential for a spillover benefit to the local economy because of the work it could create for real estate agents and building contractors.

The program is open to any officer who has passed the probationary period and whose income does not exceed 120 percent of the area median, which officials said won't be a problem for most county personnel.

Public safety personnel who stay for five years can use the funds to purchase homes anywhere in DeKalb, but to qualify for the higher subsidy that comes with a 10-year purchase, they must buy in the harder-hit southside. The county set aside another $1 million to assist the general public in buying foreclosed homes in south DeKalb.

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