Program helps officers buy houses in Chattanooga

Program helps officers buy houses in Chattanooga

August 29th, 2012 by Shelly Bradbury in News

Chattanooga police Officer Tammy Cook bought a new home with the help of a $10,000 grant from Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise's Police Fund for Homeownership. Cook and her husband, Jay, plan to make renovations to their new home in North Chattanooga.

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

Sgt. Tammy Cook, an 11-year veteran on the Chattanooga police force, patrols the same neighborhood she lives in.

"It's great," she said. "If I want to stop at home and use my own restroom, or if I want to stop at home, and heat up a plate to eat, I can do that. I'm aware of what goes on around here and I can probably better serve the community by living right here."

That hasn't always been the case. For years, Cook and her husband lived in rented apartments. But the two are new homeowners, in part because of the Chattanooga Neighborhood Enterprise's Police Fund for Homeownership.

The fund offers police officers between $10,000 and $20,000 to buy a house within the city limits and is the newest of several programs CNE offers that are aimed at revitalizing Chattanooga's neighborhoods.

"About 58 percent of the city's sworn police officers live outside the city," CNE President and CEO David Johnson said. "One of the reasons Mayor [Ron] Littlefield wanted to see a program like this come to fruition is to see a lot more officers living where they work."

Cook received a $10,000 forgivable loan from CNE when she purchased her $121,000 house in North Chattanooga. Twenty percent of the loan is forgiven each year for five years as long as she stays in her police job and continues to own the house.

Before the move, Cook lived in the Windridge Apartments off Signal Mountain Road. Now, she and her husband have put down roots about a mile from Coolidge Park.

"I love the downtown area, and all it has to offer as far as the Riverwalk, the walking bridge and all the restaurants and merchants," she said. "We wanted to live somewhere where we could walk to these locations."

So far, three police officers have purchased houses through the CNE program, which started with $250,000 from the city and covers between 12 and 25 officers, said Abby Studer Garrison, CNE director of strategic initiatives.

The fund -- and programs like it -- are part of CNE's larger goal to revitalize Chattanooga's communities.

"All of these are dual-missioned," she said. "They're about talent and recruitment, but at the core they are all about getting committed homeowners back into our urban neighborhoods."

Over the years, CNE has offered seven other programs that centered on forgivable loans. Each was focused on a different profession or neighborhood, including teachers, artists and computer developers.

Each time, CNE figures out a way to tweak the program and improve it, Garrison said.

"We've learned that the forgivable model works for us, and that we need to tie it to a timeframe," she said. "We don't want folks to just take advantage of this and then sell the house and move the next year."

CNE Director of Development Nick Wilkinson said the programs have been achieving their goals of re-energizing city neighborhoods.

"We measure a lot of stuff, including homeownership rates, increased property values, increased property tax rate," he said. "And [the police fund] is probably going to end up being a net gain for the city."

The Police Fund for Homeownership also gives officers more options than past programs, he said.

"We're not saying, 'Look, we have some houses that we don't know what to do with.' We're saying, 'You go find the house, you go find the neighborhood in Chattanooga.'"

If officers buy anywhere within the city limits, they will receive a $10,000 forgivable loan. If officers buy in neighborhoods CNE is focusing on -- the area bordered by Wilcox Boulevard, Dodson Avenue, East Main Street, Central Avenue and North Holtzclaw Avenue -- they'll get a $20,000 forgivable loan.

"There has been a lot of revitalization in those areas over the years, and we want to keep the momentum going," Johnson said.

To qualify, officers must be sworn members of the police force in good standing, and they must be able to secure a first mortgage from a traditional lender.

Cook said she tells everyone she can about the fund.

"It's a great incentive for first responders and local police because, just like everybody else, times are tight and salaries aren't exactly increasing over the years," she said. "So to know that the city is looking out for our best interests and wants us to be living in the city limits and in these close neighborhoods is a big plus."