San Francisco wants to make it easier for first responders to actually live in the city they're sworn to protect. In a new program that debuted this week, active members of the police, fire and sheriff's departments can apply for up to $100,000 toward a down payment on a home in San Francisco, where real estate prices are consistently among the highest in the U.S.
Backers of the taxpayer-financed program -- approved by voters in 2012 -- expect it to boost the number of first responders who live there and to pay off by having emergency personnel close at hand in a city notoriously susceptible to earthquakes and fires. "This is where I belong," Sheriff's Deputy Mercy Ambat told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Many of us want to live in the city and provide services to the city, but have been forced out and have to live somewhere else." She told the newspaper that she'd like to stop renting and buy a condo near Candlestick Park -- if she qualifies under the new program.
The median list price for a home in San-Francisco currently is $849,000, according to AOL Real Estate's Home Values tool.
Another who hopes to qualify, San Francisco Police Officer Gordon Shyy (pictured above) told local TV station KGO that he's now commuting 60 miles to work, and that commuting at a time of disaster could make a long commute even longer "if not, maybe, nearly impossible."
To take advantage of the loan program, the city employees will have to make less than 200 percent of the median income in San Francisco County -- or less than about $200,000 a year for a family of four. And the program isn't open to those who have a home in San Francisco already or have owned an interest in a home there in the past three years. Applicants are also forbidden to have any interest in any other homes when they close escrow on the home they've gotten assistance to buy.
They're further required to have no more than $100,000 in liquid assets left over from the deal. The loan's term is for 30 years, but that changes if the house is rented, or if it's sold or the ownership changes in some other way. Qualifying personnel are also required under the terms to stay in the city's employ for five years.
"The majority of first responders live outside our city limits. Our community is strengthened by having the people who put their lives on the line every day ... living in the neighborhoods of San Francisco," San Francisco City and County Supervisor Mike Farrell was quoted as saying in the Chronicle. "When the next big one hits we need to be ready to respond here."
While San Francisco news media reported that that some want the program to include other emergency workers, such as 911 operators and medical personnel, there's already a federal housing program that includes them -- and it also extends to teachers. The Good Neighbor Next Door program is limited, though, to places deemed "revitalization areas" by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Similar programs also have been offered in cities such as Atlanta, Detroit, Washington and Chattanooga, Tenn.
San Francisco is expected to post all the details of their program this week at www.sf-moh.org. Along with the money available to first responders, the housing trust fund is also designed to aid in the creation of affordable housing and help homeowners avoid foreclosure.