Two weeks ago, I spent an hour riding around with Albemarle County Police Sergeant Jim Larkin and Denny King, a Scottsville candidate for the Board of Supervisors. As part of their discourse, King asked the sergeant about the housing issues his officers face. For the next few minutes, Larkin relayed the travails incoming police encounter in trying to purchase a home in Albemarle. Larkin had moved here in the early ’90s, predating the incredible housing boom of recent years, and was able to procure a home. Today, though, he said it is nearly impossible for an officer to buy here. As a result, most live outside the county.
Of the associations the B-52′s bring to mind—the ’80s, love shacks, thrift store chic—housing for cops doesn’t come up readily. Yet last summer, the band played a Charlottesville benefit concert for mortgage downpayment assistance.
Lieutenant John Teixeira, spokesman for the county police, confirms what Larkin had to say, stating that nearly 70 percent of the county’s 120 officers live outside Albemarle. Rather than blame the county’s affordable housing policy, he drew focus to the disparity between officer pay and the overall cost of living in our area, which he says is just about on par with Northern Virginia.
"But we don’t offer the type of salaries they do, so it is very much an issue for us," he says. "We’ve had several qualified applicants withdraw from the application process once they found out how much it costs to live here."
Albemarle officers currently start at $33,700 a year, while the Prince William County Police website shows their salary starting at $44,086. The Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors (CAAR) report shows that the current median sales price of a single-family attached home is $224,900, while a detached home is $399,000. The Northern Virginia Association of Realtors reports a median sold price for a single-family attached home in Prince William as $291,755 and a detached as $435,036.
For policymakers, this reality is particularly troubling. The notion that the people—nurses, teachers, firefighters, among them—who serve county residents can’t actually afford to live here doesn’t quite sit right. That is why a few years ago CAAR created a Workforce Housing Fund, pledging $500,000 to assist with mortgage downpayment assistance. One of the ways CAAR has done this is by sponsoring a concert—last year’s performer was Train, this year’s the B-52′s—where part of the proceeds go to the housing fund. While it is CAAR’s task to raise the money, the actual administering of the fund is left to the Piedmont Housing Alliance (PHA) through their Regional Homeownership Center (RHOC).
As of PHA’s most recent report, the fund has helped with home purchases for three area officers, one in Fluvanna and two in Albemarle. One of those in Albemarle is actually a city policeman and was featured in ads put out by PHA that picture the officer out on duty patrolling Charlottesville’s streets. "But today, he’s cruising in unfamiliar territory—his home," a voice over says. The officer is shown walking up onto his porch where he picks up a newspaper.
As heartwarming as the ad is, teachers (who greatly outnumber police) have taken up most of the fund and available affordable housing so far. Which brings us back to the conundrum facing county police who would like to live in Albemarle: For now, as Teixeira relates, they are going elsewhere, like Lake Monticello in Fluvanna County or Waynesboro in Augusta County. "They get better houses on bigger lots for less money," he explains. "That’s really what it comes down to."
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