Joelle Terry went to college in Detroit, sings alto in a church choir in the city and fights crime on its streets.
But the 14-year Detroit police veteran isn't sure she's ready to live in the city again, despite an intriguing offer by the mayor to provide officers with large houses at very little cost in two once-elegant neighborhoods in order to help instill a sense of security.
Mayor Dave Bing announced the program earlier this month as his latest bid to bring people back to a city that has lost more than half a million residents since 1970.
The target audience is the approximately 1,500 police officers, about half the Detroit force, who live in the city's suburbs. The offer is prompting discussion in the ranks and even some window-shopping — but few takers so far, perhaps because police officers know best the problems of city life.
Terry, for instance, said she might be interested "had the homicide never happened" — a shooting outside her house in Detroit three years ago that left one man dead. "It was scary. You wonder if you are going to be next. For my family, I just wanted peace and serenity." She and her family moved to neighboring Macomb County.
The house offer is named Project 14 after police code 14, which stands for a return to normal operations. Bing hopes it will revitalize the East English Village and Boston-Edison neighborhoods by reducing crime in those areas. The two had been among the more stable and stately neighborhoods in Detroit until the rampant job losses and the recession forced dozens of homeowners into foreclosure.
East English Village borders the affluent Grosse Pointe communities and once was home to doctors, attorneys and the city's professional class. Boston-Edison is a 36-block historic district in the central city with English, Greek and Roman Revival homes that date back to the early 20th Century. The mayor's office hopes the size of the houses will help make them more attractive. All have at least two bathrooms, central air, energy-efficient furnaces, appliances and garages. Many of the properties had been empty for several years before the city assumed ownership.
For officers interested in a house, a land bank authority that buys and manages houses in foreclosure on property taxes would help line up a mortgage and a federal renovation grant of up to $150,000. The officer would put up at least $1,000 for a down payment and make nominal monthly house payments.
Several other prominent Detroit institutions are also trying to lure people back to the city. The Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford Health System and Wayne State University are offering a variety of incentives for new residents of the Midtown neighborhood. Midtown, home to museums and other cultural institutions, is a rarity in the city, showing growth in home sales and small businesses in recent years. Renters can receive $3,500 toward a two-year lease on a residence, and buyers a $20,000 forgivable loan for the purchase of a home.
Detroit police officer William Booker-Riggs, who lives in suburban Southfield, is looking for a gem in the Project 14 neighborhoods.
Booker-Riggs, 37, was shot in the abdomen in 2005 when two men tried to rob him at a Coney Island restaurant, and he killed one of the robbers. Still, he said he can imagine returning to live in Detroit. "I've seen the bad, but my heart is here in the city," he says.
Detroit, with all its problems, appeals to certain people, says demographer Kurt Metzger.
"Detroit can attract singles, the newly wed and almost dead: people who don't have an issue around schools and don't necessarily have a big issue around services and retail," said Metzger, director of Data Driven Detroit, which collects and analyzes data about the metropolitan area.
Those are some of the concerns that drove many people out of the city over the years. An exodus of police officers and other city employees began in 1999 when Michigan Gov. John Engler revoked a policy that required those on the city payroll to live in Detroit. "He opened the cages and all of a sudden they ran," Metzger said.
Until Detroit's quality-of-life problems are resolved, it's unlikely many officers will take Bing up on his offer, says former officer Pat Muscat, who moved to suburban Huntington Woods. "You look at safety for your children in the school system and safety for your family in the home you live in."
Similar programs are available in other cities.
In New York, police officers get preference for units in vacant city-owned buildings being renovated for residential use. Programs in Baltimore and Charlotte, N.C., provide cash or forgivable loans to officers who buy designated properties.
- Detroit Medical Center