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Detroit —Mayor Dave Bing says he's so serious about wanting to make Detroit more attractive, livable and safe, he's practically giving away homes to lure police officers back to the city.

Bing unveiled an unprecedented plan Monday to offer 200 tax-foreclosed homes in the East English Village and Boston-Edison neighborhoods to officers. The plan calls for officers to pay up to $1,000 for the homes while receiving as much as $150,000 apiece in grants to rehabilitate them.

Backed by federal funds, the "Project 14" plan could be a model for the nation, Bing said. The proposal's name refers to police code for "back to normal."

"Detroiters want to live in safe, stable neighborhoods, and they deserve no less," Bing said. "This is just step one of many things that we think we're going to have to involve ourselves in as we bring our city back."

The project appeals to Detroit Police Officer William Booker-Riggs, who left the city nine months ago with his 11-year-old daughter for Southfield and wasn't intent on moving back until the mayor announced the plan.

Now the 37-year-old single father said he's eyeing everything from "three-bedroom bungalows to mini-mansions." His daughter has already "asked for three bedrooms for herself."

"I'm very excited," Booker-Riggs said at a news conference Monday in City Hall as Bing unveiled the plan.

"It was more so the mayor's vision to bring the city back. It was a vision of his staff, and I just wanted to be a part of it."

Bing was flanked by police brass and uniformed officers as he outlined the plan. Bing said officers "living in neighborhoods have the potential to deter crime, increase public safety and improve relations between the community and our sworn officers."

Bing is using $30 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds for the program that intends to cut crime and stabilize a city that has lost half its population since it peaked at 1.8 million in 1950. The city plans to release a list of the available homes Friday, and Bing said the plan won't cost city taxpayers anything.

It follows a decade of abandonment by police officers since the state Legislature banned residency laws requiring officers to live in cities that employ them. At least 53 percent of Detroit's 3,000 police officers live in the suburbs, and Bing said the percentage is higher for firefighters.

The program is centered on the two neighborhoods, but the city also could offer houses in others, city officials said. The program could eventually expand to include firefighters and provide financial relief to officers who remain in the city once more federal funds are secured, city officials said.

Bing said Boston-Edison and East English Village were chosen because of their stability, high-performing schools, variety of churches, open space and recreation centers.

'The right direction'

The program is encouraging to Trallis Bailey, 54, who lives on Atkinson Street in Boston-Edison near at least six vacant homes.

But he said it needs to start soon because thieves are stripping the boarded-up houses "and there's not going to be anything to move those police in."

"It's a start in the right direction," said Bailey, whose sister is a police officer who lives in the city. "I think it will help the quality of life."

William Barlage, the president of the East English Village Neighborhood Association, said residents "are all very excited about the potential" of police officers moving into the neighborhood with an active block club, street watch, good schools and private security patrol.

"For our area, it's nice to have a police officer on the block," said Barlage, who added that 5 percent to 7 percent of the neighborhood's 2,100 homes are abandoned. "You'll deter a lot of crime and everything else if you have people on the block in terms of houses being filled again."

The city is partnering with the Detroit Land Bank Authority, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Michigan State Housing and Urban Development Authority, the Michigan Housing Trust and other private interests. The program includes safeguards that would require police to repay money for the house if they sell it to someone other than a police officer.

Bing said one major benefit is job creation because of the rehabilitation needs of the homes. The officers also will be able to pick out the carpet and cabinets and receive new appliances, administration officials said.

Specifics were not released, including how many officers have expressed interest or the names of other neighborhoods being considered for the plan.

Police Chief Ralph Godbee, who along with the majority of the command staff lives in the city, predicted the program would be a success.

Success expected

"Our residents have told us loud and clear about the challenges that their neighborhoods face as more homes have become vacant and abandoned, threatening the stability and safety of our community," Godbee said. "What we're looking for is moving back to some normalcy in police-community relations."

Councilman Kenneth Cockrel Jr. said he "applauds the mayor's vision" and believes the program is a "step in the right direction" to turning around Detroit.

"I support anything that can be used as a way to get people to come back to the city," Cockrel said. "I do think that we can't lose sight of the fact that the ultimate incentive to get people to come to Detroit and to stay in Detroit is to fix a lot of the issues that are wrong with the city. It's to improve public safety, it's to have streetlights which work and are on, it's to have streets which are clean and safe."

lfleming@detnews.com

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