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Housing Help For Police Officers Left On The Table

Chicago Police Officer Donovan Foster had been thinking of buying a home in Chicago for some time. So when he saw a flyer last fall that said the city was offering to give police officers some money toward the purchase of homes in high-crime areas, he jumped at the opportunity. Foster is black and works in the 2nd district on the South Side by the lakefront.

The city approved his loan to purchase a home in the 6th police district — a neighborhood he grew up in. It’s one of six police districts eligible under the program. The idea: having more officers around is good for a community and a way to reduce crime.

“I used to live there, so I knew what to expect,” Donovan explained when told that he was one of only eleven public safety employees to take advantage of the program.   

A year ago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel put $3 million toward a homeownership program for Chicago firefighters, police officers, and EMTs to encourage them to live in some of the highest crime areas of the city.

Mayor Emanuel figured if more police officers lived in the districts they patrolled, there’d be less strife between officers and residents, and a drop in violent crime.

“The goal is to encourage those [public safety employees] to live in our challenging neighborhoods,” he said. “Because I think one of the important things is to help stabilize the neighborhoods with good middle-class jobs.”

The city made 100 grants available in the form of 10-year, $30,000 forgivable loans to help pay for closing costs in one of the six highest crime police districts in the city.

The reality: few applied, most stayed local

Since the program launched last fall, the city has received 11 applications, according to documents obtained by WBEZ through a freedom of information request. To put that in perspective, there are more than 20,000 public safety employees on the city payroll.

Two applicants ultimately canceled their applications. The city approved five grant requests; four more are still being processed.

The paltry response to the program comes at a time when Chicago’s violent crime rates are back in the national spotlight, two years after the city’s homicide rate broke records for the first time since the 1990s.

It also comes at a time when community-police relations remain tense. Residents often express frustration that the cops who patrol their neighborhoods don’t live there.

Records from the Department of Planning and Development show most applicants stayed close to home.  

One police officer received the grant to move half a mile west, across the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Another police officer received a grant to purchase a home a mile away from the family’s current residence in Chatham. One officer who is still waiting for an application to be approved plans to move down the block.

CPD grows ranks, but cops remain concentrated in predominantly white neighborhoods  

The city is nearing the end of a two-year hiring plan to add a thousand new police officers and diversify the force. But most city police officers and firefighters remain clustered in predominantly white and middle-class neighborhoods on the Southwest and Northwest sides.

A spokesman for the Department of Planning and Development says the three-year pilot is being evaluated for effectiveness and that the income limits they set for eligibility “make many officers ineligible to participate.”

To qualify, annual household income can’t be more than $88,950 for singles, $126,900 for a family of four.

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