COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – The city of Columbus has for months offered up to $ 10,000 to some first responders as an incentive to buy a home within city limits, but the program has garnered little interest among the hundreds of eligible people.
NBC4 Investigates reported Monday that about one in four Columbus police officers live in the city, as advocates call for an incentive program to encourage police officers to live in the communities they serve.
Columbus City Council passed an ordinance in December 2019 that awards $ 100,000 in forgivable loans of up to $ 10,000 for first responders who have joined the Columbus Fire Department or the Columbus Police Division since 2018 The money can be used for a down payment on a house. in the city.
“I have always found it very, very important and valuable that the security forces – police and firefighters – if they can live in the municipality where they serve, that is ideal,” said the Columbus city council member. , Mitchell Brown, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.
A former first responder himself, Brown began developing the loan program in 2018. It went into effect in June 2020 after some delays related to the pandemic.
Since the loan program became available to around 300 first responders, according to Brown’s estimate, he said three firefighters and no police had applied.
“I know the unions know about it. I know that (the Fraternal Order of Police) is aware of the program. I know (the International Association of Fire Fighters) is aware of the program, ”said Brown. “It’s just a matter of talking about it.”
Brown said with only $ 100,000 available, the initiative serves as a pilot program. The Columbus Community Safety Advisory Board recommended after the order was passed that the city should implement incentive programs for police officers to live in the neighborhoods they patrol.
According to the city, the commission’s recommendation was approved, but still requires funding or negotiation.
“Once the $ 100,000 is spent, we’ll evaluate the system, evaluate the program and see if we need to expand it or not,” Brown said.
Ohio state law prohibits municipalities from imposing residency requirements on city employees, including first responders.
“It’s okay,” Brown said. “Let’s try to find better ways to motivate people for what we have to offer in our wonderful city.”