Few take advantage of Columbus’ first responder home loans

NBC4 Investigates

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The City of Columbus has for months been offering up to $10,000 to some first responders as an incentive to buy a home inside city limits, but the program has sparked little interest among the hundreds who qualify.

NBC4 Investigates reported Monday that roughly 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.

The Columbus City Council passed an ordinance in December 2019 that appropriated $100,000 toward forgivable loans of up to $10,000 for first responders who joined either the Columbus Fire Department or Columbus Division of Police since 2018. The money can be used for a down payment on a home within the city.

“I’ve always found it very, very important and worthwhile is that the safety forces — police officers and firefighters — if they can live in the municipality to which they serve, that that is ideal,” said Columbus city councilmember Mitchell Brown, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

A former first responder himself, Brown began crafting the loan program in 2018. It took effect in June 2020 after some pandemic-related delays.

Since the loan program became available to roughly 300 first responders, according to Brown’s estimate, he said three firefighters and no police officers applied.

“I know the unions are aware. I know the (Fraternal Order of Police) is aware of the program. I know the (International Association of Firefighters) is aware of the program,” Brown said. “It’s just a question of talking it up.”

Brown said with only $100,000 available, the initiative serves as a pilot program. The Columbus Community Safety Advisory Commission recommended after the ordinance was originally 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 bargaining.

“Once the $100,000 is expended, we’ll evaluate the system, evaluate the program and see whether or not we should expand it,” Brown said.

Ohio state law forbids municipalities from imposing residency requirements on city employees, including first responders.

“That’s OK,” Brown said. “Let’s figure out better ways to get people excited about what we have to offer in our wonderful city.”

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