Non-profit awards housing grants to police officers

Police officer Cory Culbreath and his family recently moved into their own home thanks to help from the Charlottesville Police Foundation. Photo by John Robinson.

If it weren’t for the Charlottesville Police Foundation, Charlottesville police officers Cory Culbreath and Robbie Oberholzer wouldn’t be living in the city they serve. Relatively low salaries and today’s harsh lending environment are making home ownership increasingly difficult for police officers and other public servants, forcing many to live in surrounding, less expensive counties. But with the help of $20,000 each from the CPF’s housing program, both officers recently made down payments on Charlottesville houses.

“Without the grant, I’d be in another county, definitely,” said Oberholzer, who recently used his $20,000 from the CPF to cover the down payment on a $225,000 home in the northern part of Charlottesville.

The CPF is a nonprofit made up of local citizens who help police officers acquire information and resources the city cannot provide. Since its inception in 2004, the foundation has provided supplemental training for officers, outreach to promote positive community relationships with police, an end-of-the-year awards banquet, various grants, and housing assistance. Initially, housing assistance consisted of banks and realtors providing financial and legal guidance to help officers purchase homes, but the program now includes a housing grant.

In 2009, the Charlottesville Area Community Foundation awarded the CPF a competitive grant of $75,000, which, in addition to funding other programs, catalyzed the first housing grants for police officers. Since receiving the initial check, the CPF has collected enough donations from residents and local businesses to fund housing grants for three officers whom otherwise would be forced to live outside the city.

According to the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors, the median sale price for ahome within city limits is $257,000. With starting salaries on the force at $35,256, many Charlottesville officers can’t afford the sizable down payment required to get a mortgage in the city.

“Police officers get paid well, but if you don’t have a spouse who’s getting paid equally well or better, it’s tough to afford housing in Charlottesville,” said Oberholzer.

He said he hopes his presence, even while off-duty, will provide a sense of safety for his neighbors. Living close by not only offers security in the neighborhood, he said, but it allows him to build relationships that help him do his job more effectively.

According to CPF Executive Director Mindy Goodall, officers must meet certain prerequisites in order to apply for a housing grant. Qualifying applicants must be full-time, sworn-in officers recommended by each of their supervisors, and must have an income below 150 percent of the area median income.

Once approved, officers can choose any home in Charlottesville or within two miles of city limits—a freedom that Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo said is unusual for programs of this type.

Longo said federal programs provide similar funding for public servants, but often limit their scope to specific neighborhoods.

“We’re not trying to get cops in particular neighborhoods,” Longo said. “We’re just trying to connect them with the city they work in.”

Officer Culbreath has been with the Charlottesville Police Department for 13 years, and recently moved into a new home with his wife and their four children. After crowding into a townhouse for years, Culbreath and his family refer to their new house as a castle, and he said the whole process has been “amazing.”

“It gives you that much more appreciation for where you work, and makes you leave home smiling every day,” he said.