Partnership allows Atlanta police officers to buy homes in Vine City

Beginning in mid-November, a handful of Atlanta Police will do more than patrol Vine City near the heart of downtown — they’ll live there.

In an effort to make the high-crime area more secure, five Atlanta Police officers will move into new, two-story houses on James P. Brawley Drive. The 2,000-square-foot structures, featuring around three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, were built through a partnership between home builder PulteGroup, the city, the Atlanta Police Foundation, the Atlanta Housing Authority and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.

“We believe this is at the core of what community policing should be,” Dave Wilkinson, president and CEO of the APF, said Friday during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the houses.

The five officers are the first of what officials hope will grow to a community of 20 to 25 officers over the next four years.

The houses are part of a broader revitalization effort in Vine City, English Avenue and Castleberry Hill that has mushroomed since the Atlanta Falcons decided three years ago to build the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium at the intersection of Northside Drive and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Earlier this month, Westside Works took the wraps off a new 12,000-square-foot employment and community building at 261 Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard. That will soon be followed by a new 17,000-square-foot youth center, which officials expect to break ground on in three weeks.

In addition, the city has installed hundreds of security cameras and license plate readers in the communities. Wilkinson said crime has dropped 20 percent because of the increased focus in the area.

“This is a neighborhood of families,” Atlanta City Councilman Ivory Young said during the unveiling of the homes. “This is a neighborhood of greatness.”

The announcement also comes as Mayor Kasim Reed is trying to encourage builders who receive public funding to set aside affordable housing for police officers, firefighters, teachers and families. As the economy has improved and more people move in the city, skyrocketing housing costs have made living in Georgia's capitol increasingly unaffordable for some.

The new police homes include granite countertops, two-car garages and large closets throughout . The five officers will buy the homes for about $145,000.

For Atlanta Police officer Jonathan Allen II, the move means he can rent out his duplex in Ellenwood in Henry County and “be closer to community involvement, which is very important to me.”

Officer Jason Bain, who shares a two-bedroom Northside Drive apartment with his 16-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter, said the house solves his crowding problem.

“They can’t wait to move in,” Bain said. “My daughter already plans to paint her room purple.”

The other officers are Savannah Berry, Terrence Whitten and Bennie Baskin. Berry, who has been on the force for four years, said the officers hope their presence will provide not only a sense of comfort for the community, but will help build trust. Officials acknowledged Friday that a chasm has grown between law enforcement and people they are sworn to protect because of several years of controversial police shootings around the country.

“I’m not going to walk up and down the street with my gun and my arms folded,” she said. “I want them to see I’m a regular citizen.”