Salt Lake City puts $100,000 toward helping police, firefighters, nurses and teachers purchase a home

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photos) Salt Lake City firefighters on the scene of an incident in 2015. The city donated $100,000 on Thursday to help firefighters, police, EMT's, nurses and teachers afford a home in Utah's capital.

Salt Lake City launched a new housing strategy Thursday aimed at helping vital blue-collar workers afford homes in Utah’s capital.

Meant for nurses, teachers, police, firefighters, dispatchers and EMTs who will work and live in the city, the Community Heroes program will put $100,000 toward down payment assistance over the next year, paid for with sales-tax money from the city’s new Funding Our Future initiative.

Though they perform jobs essential to keeping the city running, officials said, many cannot afford to buy a home under current market conditions.

Bruce Schumann, a West Jordan resident, said the program could help his 25-year-old son Tyler, a former Marine who is applying to work as a city policeman, settle down closer to family in Utah. Without assistance, the father said, he might have to move to another state.

"Salt Lake City is one of his prime choices and he's looked at housing in the area, trying to find something that wouldn't make him house poor," Schumann said. "But housing prices are way outside their income level."

Qualifying families who make less than 80% of median income levels — about $64,000 a year for a family of four — will be eligible for zero interest, deferred payment loans to cover down payments or closing costs on a home, along with free education for first-time homebuyers.

Mayor Jackie Biskupski said the Community Heroes assistance would mean home ownership for up to eight families of workers considered critical to the city’s well being.

“When we talk about building a city for everyone, we want to ensure that those who do this work are able to build their lives right here,” Biskupski said before touring a newly renovated, city-owned home at 389 Navajo St. that is up for sale.

The Community Heroes program will make “a significant difference” for dispatchers and first-responders, many of whom live in rentals because they can’t afford to buy, according to Lisa Burnette, director of the city’s 911 emergency dispatch bureau.

“We’re so pleased to hear about this program,” she said. "This is going to be a great initiative and benefit to have our staff live where they work.”

Community Heroes is the fourth new city initiative announced in recent weeks aimed at alleviating effects of a lack of affordable homes on disadvantaged groups, including impoverished public school students, the mentally ill and those experiencing homelessness.

The city is donating $100,000 to the nonprofit Community Development Corporation of Utah to administer Community Heroes, paid for with cash raised through a half-percent increase to the city’s sales-tax rate, approved by the City Council last May.

Mike Akerlow, CEO of the agency, said the program represented a way of giving back to those who provide crucial services that make Salt Lake City a desirable place to live.

“We want to help those who help us,” Akerlow said, turning to several police officers and firemen standing nearby. “We’re grateful for all you do.”

Allowing essential workers to live closer to their employment serves to reduce commute times and improve air quality on the Wasatch Front, Biskupski and other said. The initiative will also help strengthen the city’s neighborhoods, the mayor said.

“Home ownership is the key to neighborhood stability,” she said. “And who better to have in your neighborhood than someone who spends their working life bringing that stability to Salt Lake City through their employment.”