Housing incentives for municipal employees… is now the right time?

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.]

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  1. Burt Reynolds
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    I, frankly, do not believe in incentives for either firefighters or police officers to live in their municipality of employment. First, I don’t really understand the investment of offering an incentive to firefighters. Generally, if a firefighter is working, they are already in the community, or at the station. I suppose it could help in the event of a large out of control fire or situation which needs prompt delivery of service which could not be met by those already “on the clock.” I suppose some type of study which analyzed data involving off duty firefighters response time, and number of times off-duty service was needed could help.

    Regarding police officers, I am strongly against any mandation to live in the community of work. If an officer chooses to then so be it, but otherwise no way. Can you imagine being a police officer and having to walk amongst the population which you enforce the laws? This isn’t Mayberry. They are not getting cats out of tree’s. I would feel completely unsafe for myself and my family to be put in that situation.

  2. Posted November 30, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how you can force municipal employees to live in a particular area in this political climate. They might not have a job in 5 years.

  3. TeacherPatti
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Pete, you are so correct. I get all sorts of shit (oh noes, there’s my filthy mouth) for living “far” from where I teach but I refuse to buy a house based on where I work. When I was in the legal field (oh noes, they gave me a law license too!!1!!111!!), I went through about a job a year. While I’ve had the same teaching job for five years, I know it can go away in a heartbeat.

  4. Edward
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I agree with Burt. The police need anonymity. They last thing they need is to actually know the people they’re dealing with on the street as human beings. There is far too much accountability as it is.

  5. K2
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    More people in the city means a more robust tax base, and more customers for our restaurants and stores. It also gives the impression to those driving by on Michigan Avenue that things are happening in Ypsilanti. It’s in everyone’s best interests if we encourage more people to live here, and why not start with those who already work here? It makes perfect sense.

  6. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    The first three posters were clearly not paying attention to the post. We aren’t talking about RULES REQUIRING RESIDENCY we are talking about INCENTIVES ENCOURAGING RESIDENCY. There is a huge difference between ASKING AND ENCOURAGING the folks employed in a community to become part of and support it, and enacting laws forcing them to do so. The residency programs in Detroit have been wildly successful so far. That will ultimately pay off in a higher tax base and better job security. It doesn’t seem like much, given how deep we are into the shitter in Michigan, but it does make a difference over time.

    K2 pretty much makes the rest of my point. Edward makes the case for the best fringe benefit of such programs, and gets extra points for sarcasm and snark.

  7. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Oh, and in case I didn’t make it clear, I would fully support such a program, because I think we need to try to take steps to encourage growth in Ypsilanti, and to attempt to repair our tax base. As far as I can tell, there is little support for any such idea in our current city government.

  8. Eel
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Could we also offer certain people money to leave and not come back?

    Speaking of which, does anyone know the story of what really happened to The Man with No Face, who used to plague our downtown, accosting people? I heard our police “got rid of him,” but I never heard the whole story. Did we buy him a bus ticket somewhere?

  9. j
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    I like residency requirements–banning them is Michigan fuck-up #937.

    I want my public servants to have a personal investment in the community they serve. It makes me question their commitment when they live elsewhere. You don’t drive a Toyota to work at GM. Of course it makes collective bargaining easier for the council when the salaries you’re cutting aren’t your neighbors or voters and won’t be spent in the city anyway. Slash away council, slash away.

  10. Mr. X
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a plan from Texas State University. They were offering $5k in 2009. (I’m not sure if they still are.)

    The City of San Marcos established an economic development program under Chapter 380 of the Texas Local Government Code for the purpose of encouraging eligible Texas State University-San Marcos employees to reside in the city limits as a means of increasing local spending and residential development. In conjunction with the Chapter 380 Program, the City of San Marcos entered into an agreement with Texas State University-San Marcos setting forth the eligibility requirements for the receipt of financial assistance.

    The program provides funding for down payment and related closing cost assistance in the form of a forgivable loan to qualified full time tenured, tenure line and research professors who agree to purchase a home in the City of San Marcos and to maintain the home as their primary residence for at least five years. Financial assistance is subject to the appropriation of funding for the program during each fiscal year.

    Program funds are administered by the City’s Development Services Department. Eligibility for assistance under this program is not dependent upon the income level of the recipient. Recipients of financial assistance under the program may be eligible to apply for other forms of financial assistance available from the City of San Marcos or other sources. A determination of eligibility to participate in such other programs would be made on a case by case basis applying the applicable rules for such programs.

    More details can be found here.


  11. Mr. X
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    New Hope, Minnesota announced a plan in 2007.

    Employees who relocate to New Hope would get a $1,000 one-time payment, half to be paid six months after relocation and the rest to be paid a year later.

    Employees who already live in the city and any relocating employees also would receive a stipend of $25 per pay period, equal to $650 a year.

    The City Council ‘s budget has $10,000 for the program in 2008.


  12. Brainless
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Sure, this can be paid for by the city removing yet another service from me and my taxes staying the same because I feel much safer knowing where my firefighters live.

    You’re picking a group of people, taking money from everybody else, and bribing them to live here. (“Oh, it’s an incentive, not a bribe.” To-MA-to / To-MAH-to, eh?) Hey, I’m happy as hell that a couple of those bucks will end up in local business’s coffers, but most won’t and not a single dime of that money will come back to me.

    A good cop is a good cop. Let’s get more of those and quit trying to social engineer where people live. Good lord, what’s next? Forcing them into city dorms like some Chinese factory workers? If a little residency is good, a lot must be better.

  13. Mr. X
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I found an article from a year ago about Lakewod, Ohio. I don’t know if they decided to do anything, but they were considering it. I found the following points interesting.

    Both the school district and the city already have several perks for employees who live in the city, such as extra points on civil service exams for police officers which gives them an advantage in hiring and promotions.

    City Council is hoping to find a third party to negotiate perks from outside sources like lower mortgage rates, breaks on credit card fees or free checking. They are also considering other ideas like discounts at local businesses. Council members cannot negotiate such deals as they are also city employees.

    Would extra points on civil service exams be something that we could consider in Ypsilanti?

    And might a local bank be willing to work with EMU on special offers for new hires settling in Ypsilanti? (Might something like this already exist through the EMU credit union?)


  14. Full-O-Brains
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    I, on the other hand, would be willing to consider anything that would, for a relatively small upfront investment, get more foreclosed houses purchased, and more stable, tax-paying families living downtown.

    And don’t worry about my brainless brother. He’ll be fine once I give him back his glow-in-the-dark Palin doll and turn on the TV.

  15. Brainless
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Full-O-Brains, you’re a fucking idiot. You think I’m a Palin fan because of one stance on one issue? Seriously? You’re a fucking idiot. I’m not for social engineering, so that makes me some sort of wacky neo-con? Is this how you see the world?

  16. Elvis Costello
    Posted November 30, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Mr. X, I believe that awarding extra points in a Civil Service exam is illegal except for Veteran’s Status Points, 1 for each year of service. However, I believe that once a list is certified, the hiring officer, (Mayor or Supervisor), can certainly take into consideration any factors they choose, including residence, ties to the community, etc…

  17. TeacherPatti
    Posted December 1, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Andrew, I understood. I might have mis”spoke” in my post (as I was mostly talking to Pete :)), but I generally got it. I’m certainly okay with incentives…hell, some states give low rate mortgages to teachers as an incentive to teach!

  18. Posted December 1, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    I love it when Patti talks to me.

  19. anonymous
    Posted December 1, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I also hear that she fucks on the first date, Peter.

  20. TeacherPatti
    Posted December 1, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    OH MY GOD GUYS–I was honestly being facetious when I said that but I am going to go with it. I actually am in a happy relationship now, finally, yay, yay, yay.

    But honestly, I was only kidding when I said that originally. I got that from the movie Saturday the 14th (I think it is called). Anyway, I hope my mom doesn’t stumble on this site.

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