Affordable Housing (Again)

I blogged about this in April and again today: it’s nigh-to-impossible for a cop, firefighter, or teacher to be able to afford to live in the county where he or she works.

Some think that salaries of public servants are “too high.” Certainly for those who have made a commitment to stay for a long time, and who have earned promotions, studied hard to obtain advanced college degrees, and take on extra assignments like after-school group supervision or overtime, find that their incomes are higher than others. But that’s how it should be. Those who work the longest and hardest should be rewarded by appropriate compensation.

The problem is for the younger people starting their public service careers. In their 20s, usually fresh out of college or technical school, often with massive student loan debt, and perhaps newly married wanting to start a family — how in the heck can they afford to buy a home in a county where the median price of an existing home exceeds a half-million dollars (US$500,000)? With a 5% down payment (of course, better if more, but let’s use this for an example), the anticipated monthly principal and interest (calculated at 6.5% on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage) would exceed $3,000, plus several hundred more per month for PMI and escrow to pay taxes and homeowners insurance. Even for a two-income couple, that amount of money is way above what reputable lenders would allow to be financed.

That’s why these days we see cops, firefighters, and teachers renting, because they can’t afford to buy. Some still live with their parents. Some decide to buy a starter home (condo or townhouse) way far away, far beyond the county where they work. Thus they have to endure a commute from hell, for hours each way. With the cost of fuel, many can no longer afford to do that, either, and sometimes have to quit their job in our county because they can’t afford to commute or live where they work.

This week I feel good because I was able to put a very small dent in this dilemma for a starting teacher and her construction-worker husband who are relocating here from another state. A few months ago, I bought a house that had gone into foreclosure. The house was right next door to another one that I own and rent to a fine young police officer. I spent time to fix it up, do repairs, replace the electrical system, have a new roof put on, replace the water heater, and some other less intensive repairs. My partner even did the painting (I hate to paint!)

The county sent me a list of prospective tenants and I selected this bright young and eager first-year teacher to live in that house. She has been assigned to a school that is just four miles away. She will have time she needs to spend at school doing the extra things a new teacher has to do, as well as attend classes for an advanced degree when she is ready. She will have the time because her commute will be so short. And her husband shouldn’t have trouble finding construction work — our county and the general geographic area where we live is still in the midst of a building boom.

I accept a less-than-market rent (and can deduct the difference from my taxes, as well as what it cost me to renovate the house). I don’t do this for the rental income — income and expenses work out to be a wash in the long run anyway — I do it because, well, I can. I can say truthfully next time I testify before our county council or planning board, “I am making a difference. Are you?”

One person, one couple, one house at-a-time. Sure, have all the “affordable housing” talk you want, but if you’re serious about it, do something. I am very happy that I did.