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Safer Havens in Detroit
Mayor unveils incentives to lure police back to city homes.
Houses in the Boston Edison neighborhood of Detroit.
Courtesy Historic Boston Edison Assoc.

In 1999, Michigan revoked mandatory residency for the city’s municipal employees, allowing police to live where they wanted, inciting a migration to the suburbs. On February 7, Mayor Dave Bing announced a program to lure them back entitled Project 14. The name derives from police code 14: a return to normal operations.

Using $30 million from Detroit’s $41 million portion of the stimulus “Neighborhood Stabilization Fund,” the city will purchase and refurbish homes in two Detroit neighborhoods. According to the Detroit Free Press, city officials chose the East English Village and Boston-Edison neighborhoods because they are near good schools, community centers, and parks.

Project 14 aims to deter crime, raise the tax base, and fill vacant properties. Bing also believes it could be a model for similar programs. “We hope this serves as a call to action for corporations, organizations, and individuals to live where they work,” the mayor said. “Detroiters want to live in safe, clean neighborhoods. They deserve nothing less.”

One of the criticisms of the project is that the neighborhoods selected are already reasonably safe. A Detroit Free Press op-ed pointed out that the program will not do much to “overcome the high negatives associated with city life” or “attract enough officers to make a significant difference.” However, the paper did praise the program for taking tax-reverted properties held by the city and getting them occupied.

And if officers aren’t swayed by the offer, others might just jump at it. The program brief states that any qualifying individual may apply to become a homeowner through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Qualified homebuyers must provide a $1,000 cash down payment, pay out of pocket for renovations above the standard package, and make monthly payments towards a mortgage. Depending on the size of the home and mortgage, these payments should be from $500 to $1,000, and the homes’ appraisal values will be between $40,000 and $80,000. Interested buyers will apply through the Detroit Land Bank Authority (DLBA) and will select a home from an approved list of what’s available, including details of their terms of renovation and any other features.

Another initiative from the mayor’s office, the Detroit Works Project, is still working on an incentive-to-move program for other Detroit residents intended to move people from neighborhood to neighborhood. Still in the 12- to 18-month planning stages, this group has been holding community meetings with residents since it launched last September and is working on identifying which neighborhoods should receive investment. Project 14 can be viewed as a cautious first step, and with it the city hopes to counter the negative press and resident paranoia over forced relocation programs such as those implemented in the1960s that demolished homes for highway construction.

Sarah F. Cox