By Michael Hill
A chance to revitalize New Jersey’s inner cities — that’s what the bill’s lead sponsor calls it.
“I think if we look at the problems we see in the urban areas, we need this bill more than ever, especially when we’re trying to create renaissances in many of the urban communities,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora.
Gusciora says his bill has broad support to encourage police officers, firefighters, teachers and sanitation workers to live where they work. And it offers a down payment to buy a house.
To qualify, those public employees must work in an Abbott district, be full time and on the job at least a year.
Then, they could get a $10,000 interest-free loan, must agree to pay back 20 percent a year for five years and the property they buy must be their primary residence for at least five years.
“It would add to the vibrancy of a community and the diversity of a community. And I think a lot more people would feel much safer in their neighborhood knowing that a police officer lives down the block,” Gusciora said.
The New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police says it lobbied for the bill because it thinks it’s a good idea for police officers to live where they work, whether it’s a rich town or a poor town, because that way officers can get to know where they police. However, it said it supports the bill so long as it encourages residency instead of requiring it.
The New Jersey Education Association represents many of the state’s teachers and says it’s always supported bills like this one.
“We think it is a great idea because it will incentive. working public servants to live where they work and when that happens it not only attracts professionals to these communities but it could stimulate the local economy because at the end of the day people like to shop where they live and they work,” said NJEA Director of Government Relations Ginger Gold Schnitzer.
Would teachers take advantage of it?
“Yes, I think many of them will take advantage of it. I’m sure $10,000 will really help,” Schnitzer said.
The New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency would run the program with $5 million from the general fund.
Some supporters say they wish the bill would provide more than $10,000 per employee but Gusciora says it’s a start in state with tight fiscal constraints.
And some lawmakers want the offer broadened to include other public workers. Gusciora says he welcomes that.
“It is a start. Call it a pilot program. We’d love to expand it to everyone,” he said.
Gusciora says similar bills lost support probably because of money concerns but this one’s heading for the full Senate.