Foreclosed homes could go to police

ATLANTA --- The typical mortgage is 30 years. But walk a beat in Atlanta, and that house could be yours in half the time -- and for just a little money down.

As a solution to metro Atlanta's foreclosure crisis, a lawmaker plans to propose giving foreclosed, abandoned homes to county police officers, who can't afford to live in the neighborhoods they protect.

But officers must agree to serve 15 years on the force before they get the property deed, and the board of commissioners would have to persuade lenders holding the liens to give several homes to the county in exchange for tax breaks.

"I thought somebody should be in these homes," said Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts. "Here's a way to help a group of people who put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis at a relatively minor cost."

Georgia has consistently been in the top 10 in foreclosed properties, with the nation's sixth highest foreclosure rate in November, according to RealtyTrac, a Web site that tracks foreclosures.

Mr. Pitts said he thought of the plan after looking at all the empty homes in his southwest Atlanta neighborhood.

Officers would have to come up with a $2,500 down payment and be responsible for all taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance. Mr. Pitts said he plans to meet as soon as next week with several "major lenders," whom he declined to name, to discuss his plan.

"Here's an opportunity for them to have some goodwill coming from the community in which they do business by helping with public safety," Mr. Pitts said. "If we could get 200 (homes), that would be a good start."

The Fulton County Police Department has 130 officers, 18 fewer than its target. The starting salary is $32,646 for high school graduates and $38,000 for officers with a bachelor's degree, so finding affordable houses in the city is tough.

Department spokesman Lt. Darryl Halbert said the agency is excited about the proposal.

"The officers are able to obtain a home for very little down, the community gets a police officer and the department can use this as a recruiting tool," he said.

If it's successful, firefighters or others could later be added, Mr. Pitts said.

He still must get the idea past the commission. Chairman John Eaves declined to comment on the issue through his spokesman, Darryl Hicks, who said there is not yet a proposal to consider.