A few days ago, in a post about the recent string of downtown burglaries, I noted that, given that we have fewer police on the streets these days due to budget cuts, it might help if those police officers that we did have working for the City, actually lived here. I don’t know that it would necessarily solve our crime problems, but I have to believe that it would help if the men and women we had patrolling our streets also lived in the community, were members of our neighborhood associations, served on the same community boards that we did, had their kids playing in the same soccer leagues, etc. (It probably also wouldn’t hurt if we had 20 more families paying property taxes in the City.) At any rate, my comment received two comments that I thought should be moved up here to the front page. Here, first, though, is my comment from the other day.
…I’d like to think that we could make things better, just by being more engaged citizens. At some point, though, I think it comes down to the police presence in a community. And this is something that I’ve struggled with. Up until 10 years ago, I probably would have always opted for less of a police presence, and it’s especially difficult for me to say otherwise now, in light of what we’re seeing cops do in places like Oakland, but I do think that good cops, who live in a community, and are an active, positive presence, can be a good thing… And, I don’t think we’ve ever talked about it here, but I’d like to see us go back to a situation where our local cops actually live here in Ypsi. As I understand it, none of our current cops do. I think that would help quite a bit…
And here are the two comments that were left in response.
Mark, what you are referring to is a residency rule. There used to be residency rules for Firefighters and Police. Usually they had to live in the community in which they worked, or within a certain amount of miles from their job community. Ypsilanti Township had a 10 mile from the borders rule. The legislature banned residency rules, mostly because of Detroit. Firefighters and Police there wanted to move out of the city. Many of them already lived outside, but had a local address to an apartment that they would share. I think that a better way to go is to give incentives. Ypsilanti Township had, and I believe still has a cash incentive for County Deputies to live in the Township, they have never offered the same to Firefighters.
As Elviscostello notes, state law forbids us from having residency requirements for municipal employees, and most of our police and fire employees live outside the city. (DPW and city hall have much higher in-city addresses.) I’m not terribly convinced there’d be a huge advantage to having the public safety employees living in town, unless we went from an all-full-time fire department to a partially on-call system. I’m open to other arguments about the benefit, though.
If we did want to get more city employees living in town, one thing we could do is offer housing allowances/incentives to city staff to live in the city limits, similar to the Live Downtown program in Detroit. Say, next time the union contracts are up for renewal, and the city needs to cut $5,000 from each employee’s total compensation, some of the money could go into a fund that gives down payment assistance grants to any city employee who buys a home inside the city limits.
Countdown to somebody saying we don’t have the money for such extravagance: 3…2…1…
Okay, so let’s limit the down payment grant to only being available for foreclosed properties in the city limits. To do a lot of handwaving on the numbers, we can say that a foreclosure reduces the value of every property within a one block radius by 1-2%. So 10-25 homes, average value $100k, reduced by 1-2% means each foreclosure reduces total property values by $10k-$50k, or $5-25k in taxable value, or $150-$750 in city tax revenues (counting general fund, road, transit, solid waste, and police/fire pension millages).
So a $5000 down payment assistance grant to police/fire employees, used towards the purchase of a foreclosed home in the city, could repay itself in property tax stabilization in as little as 6-7 years (or a lot longer). Maybe that’s not a good enough ROI all by itself to do this, but if we think that there are good non-fiscal reasons to have public safety employees living within the city limits, the financial return is gravy. Especially if we assume that we can implement something like this at the same time as / as a mitigating factor to cutting employee pay / benefits, such that it doesn’t cost the city anything new.
So, what do you think, is Murph on to something? I know money is tight at the moment, but would something like this be worth the investment? I’m inclined to say yes.
Also, what could we do to get more EMU faculty and staff living in the City? What would it take to convince the EMU administration that they should begin encouraging their new hires to purchase homes in the City? What are other universities in similar situations doing? Are any covering closing costs? Are any establishing programs with local real estate agents? Could we, at the very least, convince President Martin that, as the futures of EMU and Ypsilanti are intertwined, it’s in the best interest of the University if more people are living in the City, patronizing businesses, and contributing toward a healthy urban ecosystem? And, assuming she’d acknowledge that, how about calling together some EMU faculty who live in the City to brainstorm ideas? Again, I know money is tight, but I can’t help but think that this would pay off for the University in the long run.
[Those interested in this subject are encouraged to read my interview with Lee Azus, who recently decided to settle in Ypsi when he boyfriend was hired at EMU.]