Most of Atlanta’s police and firefighters live outside the city, repelled by the expense of intown housing. Local leaders want to change that.

Mayor Andre Dickens and City Councilmember Amir Farokhi this week announced an initiative to use $500,000 in federal Covid-19 relief funds to subsidize rent for public safety officials “as an incentive to live near their stations or offices, or in their zones,” according to a press release.

The proposal underscores the daunting gap between what working-class Atlantans earn and what they can afford to spend on housing in what’s become a high-rent city. Defraying that cost, so those new to public safety jobs can afford to live where they work, could give the city an edge in recruiting and retaining officers, and it’s also a way to sow trust between the community and those charged with protecting it.

“Based on conversations I’ve had with police and firefighters—particularly younger ones—they want to live in the city,” Farokhi said in an interview. “Their decisions to live outside the city tend to come down to cost.”

Rookie firefighters earn $46,491 a year after completing academy training, and new police officers make $48,500, according to city materials. 

To put that in perspective, the area median income in metro Atlanta is $67,500 for a single person and $77,200 for a two-person household. 

Farokhi said the $500,000 would likely be disbursed as recurring subsidy payments to help officers pay rent in the areas where they work.

The proposed rental assistance program would be administered by the Atlanta Police Foundation and bring in the Atlanta Apartment Association—which represents companies managing over 390,000 apartments, according to its website—to help program applicants find units they can afford in the city’s hyper-competitive housing market.

“Our organization will educate our members about the initiative and identify apartment communities interested in participating in each of the city’s six police zones or near fire stations,” said Stephen Davis, the Apartment Association’s government affairs director.

But that won’t be easy, since apartments priced for workers earning less than the city’s median income are increasingly scarce.

The proposed program could go to a city council vote in the next few weeks. 

This isn’t the first city-led effort to house public safety workers. The city of Atlanta partnered with the Atlanta Police Foundation last year to build an affordable apartment complex for police recruits in the English Avenue neighborhood while they’re in training.

The complex, Unity Place, houses 30 officers in training, but it’s not permanent housing. Once they graduate, they’ll be scrambling for housing like so many other working-class Atlantans.

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