Theresa Walker would gladly trade squatters who have frequented the house next door to hers for a DeKalb County Public Safety officer.
With the county’s new Officer Next Door program, that scenario could become a reality soon. The program, announced Monday, Oct. 19, provides $2.5 million in down payment assistance on foreclosed homes for the county’s first responders, which includes police officers, Sheriff’s deputies, fire and EMS personnel.
Walker said the home next to hers is in foreclosure and has been occupied off and on by squatters for more than a year.
“I applaud the CEO (Burrell Ellis) for this,” Walker said. “It is a very much-needed program.”
Members of several homeowners associations throughout the county attended the ceremony at DeKalb Police headquarters, including Walker, who is a member of the Greater Towers Community Association. Also present were numerous county public safety employees.
Walker said there have been petty thefts in her neighborhoods while the squatters have occupied the home. She said police have been out to try to get the squatters to vacate the property.
“I’ve been very vigilant since it is next door for my safety and for the safety of our neighborhood,” Walker said. “I would love to have a police officer living next door. It would definitely be an asset to the neighborhood.”
The program, which is part of the county’s Neighborhood Specialization Program, sets aside $1.5 million for police officers and another $1 million for other first responders in the county, including firefighters and paramedics. Ellis said the county surveyed 500 officers in the county and 300 indicated they would be interested in the program.
The money can be used for down payments, closing costs and second mortgages, Ellis said. Homebuyers can qualify for assistance of $14,150, which requires they remain in the home for five years, or $25,000, which requires they stay in the home for 10 years.
“Police officers thought they had to live elsewhere for quality living, now they have a viable option to live in the neighborhood where they work,” Ellis said. “We’ll be able to stabilize neighborhoods by putting first responders in these homes.”
There were 7,000 foreclosed homes in DeKalb County through the end of August, according to Chris Morris with the county’s Housing and Development office. Although all foreclosed homes are available in the program, Ellis said the county is targeting certain zip codes – 30087, 30083, 30082 and 30034.
There are certain income requirements, which Ellis said most officers should be able to meet, and a probation period for new officers.
“I am so happy and excited to hear that this program is taking place,” said Brenda Pace of the East Lake Terrace Association. “First for the police officers and second for the communities.”
The program also will help officers become more bonded to the communities they serve.
“The officers will have a continued connection in the community which they serve,” said county Public Safety Commissioner William Miller. “It will help to deter crime, help with morale and recruitment, and it is an incentive for officers to remain on the DeKalb County police force.”