August 19, 2011; Source: Detroit Free Press | When Dave Bing decided he wanted to be mayor of Detroit, he had to move into the city in order to be eligible to run. But that’s not true of the men and women who serve on Detroit’s police force and in the fire department. As in most cities, a big challenge in Detroit is getting police and fire personnel to move back from the suburbs.
Bing’s original plan was to offer bank-foreclosed properties within the Detroit city limits to police officers and firefighters for free along with extra money for repairs. Although the city has made 200 foreclosed homes available, only one transaction has been completed so far: William Booker-Riggs, one of the mayor’s bodyguards, is moving back from the suburb of Southfield to take possession of a home donated by Bank of America. A mayoral spokesperson said that 10 police officers were in the process of moving back into the city and five more are applying for mortgages.
To put some additional juice into Mayor Bing’s efforts, the JP Morgan Chase Foundation has just announced that it will donate $1 million in down-payment assistance to help attract police officers back into the city. The foundation is offering $25,000 down payments to the first ten officers who qualify for a mortgage and $15,000 down payments to help an additional 60 officers to purchase homes in any of 11 Detroit neighborhoods. The down payments will be gradually written off as the officers remain in their homes.
To its credit, the JP Morgan Chase Foundation is doing more than providing cash. To make the program work, it is linking up with Enterprise Detroit—formerly known as Shorebank Enterprise Detroit until its Chicago-based parent went under—which will work with nonprofit community development corporations to distribute the down-payment assistance and help the officers find homes and qualify for mortgages. Not only is Chase investing its corporate philanthropic dollars in an important mayoral initiative, it is also reinvesting in the capacity of Detroit’s nonprofit community development infrastructure.
As demonstrated by our previous reporting on the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the Kresge Foundation’s interactions with the city government, nothing is easy about lifting Detroit out of decades of economic doldrums, and foundations have to walk a fine line to make sure that they are investing in ways that support the legitimate priorities of the city’s elected officials as well as Detroit’s nonprofit civic infrastructure. This Chase investment looks like a good step.—Rick Cohen