The Hilltop and Eastside areas of Tacoma seem ideal neighborhoods for a unique program designed to foster the reclamation of high-crime urban areas and enable police officers to help pay for homes simply by being there. But thus far, there have been no local takers.

“The City of Tacoma housing staff is aware of the Officer Next Door program,” says City spokesman Dan Vopel, “but it is not one we have opted to pursue up to this point.”

The Officer Next Door initiative is an anti-crime and community revitalization effort through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The pilot program allows law enforcement officers and their families to purchase homes in high-crime neighborhoods for half price.

Yet Officer Next Door is not the only program that can help sellers and the real estate industry encourage prospective buyers to look favorably upon the Hilltop and Eastside neighborhoods. The approach the City has taken to revitalizing neighborhoods such as Hilltop and Eastside has been to encourage everyone of any age to move there—and to provide them with help through alternative HUD assistance programs.

“We’ve had a number of initiatives to encourage people to move into these neighborhoods, building up home ownership using HUD funds thorough the Down payment Assistance Program and mortgage assistance programs,” says Vopel, “but nothing specifically for police officers.”

The Down Payment Assistance Program (DPA) provides aid for low-income homebuyers in targeted Tacoma neighborhoods.

These second mortgage loans of up to $5,000 offer hope to those unable to come up with enough money for a down payment, closing costs, prepaids, discounts and other related expenses.

DPA loans, which are offered through the Tacoma Community Redevelopment Authority, require the borrower to contribute 50 percent of the down payment or at least $500. Loans are at a zero percent interest rate with no monthly payments, and are deferred for 20 years. This can mean the difference between a single-income parent being able to buy a home versus the revolving door of living in one apartment after another.

Another benefit of DPA is that it can be used in conjunction with the Washington State Bond program. Qualifying criteria for WA State Bond applicants are less restrictive, allowing for slightly higher income levels, and its assistance is not tailored to any specific neighborhoods. The program allows borrowers to receive a lower interest rate set by the state.

As high-crime neighborhoods struggle to make their streets safer, there is a need to provide home ownership assistance to low-income families and individuals—including police officers. Once a police officer moves into a neighborhood, crime rates tend to decrease. People start feeling safer, and that encourages prospective buyers to settle in neighborhoods they might otherwise avoid.

Officer Next Door was introduced in August 1997 but is just now catching on nationwide—a deputy sheriff in Spokane who recently moved into a home he purchased through the program is only the fourth officer in Washington to take advantage of it.

The proactive approach of the Officer Next Door initiative and DPA have the ability to create positive changes in troubled communities.With many recent developments spurring the revitalization of these once-shunned neighborhoods, programs such as these present an opportunity for potential homeowners to realize their dreams. These programs also present a path towards increasing the value of the investments these buyers make.

For more information about Officer Next Door, call HUD at 1-800-217-6970. For information about DPA or WA State Bond program should contact Tacoma Community Redevelopment Authority.

Author Ann Grignon is vice president and branch manager of Continential Savings Bank’s local offices.