A New Program Brings Heroes Home to San Francisco

What's the point of living in a million-dollar city if all the firefighters, police officers and EMS workers live two hours away?

Photo by ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images In the mid-'70s, hard-boiled cop Mike Stone lived in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood at 768 De Haro Street. Today that 1,220-square-foot home with one bathroom would go for just under $1 million. 

St. Mary's Park, just south of Bernal Heights, is the perfect example. Twenty years ago, a kid living in that neighborhood would walk blocks out of his way to avoid walking through the park — or would run like zombie food, heart in his mouth, after visiting friends across the expanse of blighted green

Today that kid is a firefighter, like his dad. But if he hadn't inherited the house he lives in, he wouldn't be able to live in the city he serves, because the property values in his neighborhood have more than quadrupled since he was a kid. A pleasant 2-bedroom home that sold for $150K in 1984 recently went for $750K, and prices are projected to rise 10% in the next year. 

Last year San Francisco voters passed Prop C: The Housing Trust Fund Initiative by a huge margin, earmarking $15 million over the next five years for home-loan assistance to middle- and working-class families. Some of that money will stop foreclosures, some will help first-time homebuyers whose income is below the mean, and at least $1 million per year will serve as loans to first responders (firefighters, police officers and EMS workers) who need assistance putting together a big enough down payment. 

Officially launched on July 30, the website went live August 1. Jess Montejano, Legislative Aide to District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, who introduced the legislation, says that with the application period open until mid-September, they will be on track to help 10-12 families secure otherwise un-gettable loans in 2013. 

Critics have complained that other critical city workers, such as nurses and 911 operators, should be getting the same consideration. But it's a start. 

Speaking as someone who was taken via ambulance to the hospital while in labor, realizing about 5 minutes into the trip that my driver was unsuccessfully using GPS to find the hospital, and arriving about 20 minutes after my husband, I can testify that you really want your first responders to be local, folks. If this program makes that happen, everybody wins. 

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