Affordable Housing for City Police (Only?)

by jhwygirl

During Wednesday’s city council Public Safety and Health committee meeting, a discussion was had regarding recruitment of police. I’ll let Bob Jaffe give it to you:

We confirmed a couple of police officers and had an interesting discussion about recruiting and retention of our officers. According to the Chief, we now have one of the highest paying and best trained forces in the state.Since our last contract negotiation we are in a much better place for recruiting and retention. But even with our new pay scale our officers find it hard to afford to purchase a home in this community. Some communities offer down payment assistance for their officers. Maybe we can find a way to do something like that.

That’s some good stuff there – the best trained forces in the state? – Missoula both deserves and needs that (especially with Bobby Hauck, run amok) – but it does illustrate some of the very issues I’ve been speaking about. (For more b’bird stuff on affordable housing, click on the “affordable housing” tag at the end of this piece).

Affordable housing is essential to provide essential services to the community. It’s also necessary to ensure economic viability.

In the situation put forth at Wednesday’s committee meeting, we’ve got the best paid police force in the state, and yet we’re still having trouble recruiting police men and women because they can’t afford to purchase a home.

But who all deserves to have the city subsidize or assist in providing assistance for purchasing a home? Police? (check) Fire? (check) Ambulance Drivers? (check) Teachers? (check) School bus drivers? (check) Nurses? (check) Public Works employees? (check)

You understand where I’m going with this…..

Now – I support having the best police force Missoula could possibly have – hell, I support every community having the absolutely best police force it could absolutely have. Policemen and women deserve to be well-paid. Not only do they protect the community and ensure its sustainability, they take their lives into their hands every single time they put on that uniform. Absolutely without a doubt. I am not trying to say that the police don’t deserve to have help with their housing.

But if we’re looking to help the best-paid police force in the state with down payments for housing, we’re putting a bandaid on the problem.

The issue Missoula faces is that people who make the median income can not afford to buy a home. We’ve got plenty of agencies that help people get a home, but if you make more than 80% of the median income, you are SOL.

The reality is that if you make less than 80% of the median income you can head to any one of the multiple housing agencies and seek assistance and end up with housing that is costing you approximately 1/3 of your gross income. If you make more than 80% of the median income, you’re putting 50- 60% (or more) of your gross income into housing – and you’re on your own.

Missoula needs to be safe and provide those essential services like police, etc. – but we also need to ensure economic viability. In order to do that, we’ve got to ensure housing for more than just police officers.

It’s time for the discussion. Let’s not put it off for 2 years or 4 years or whatever – time’s a-wastin’.

(I want to thank Bob Jaffe for the listserv. It provides a valuable service to the community, providing us with insight to the workings and discussion of committee meetings held each Wednesday during the day. By citing Bob’s listserve, I am not implying that he is solely or in any way responsible for the issues discussed. He’s reporting them for us, and that is a very, very good thing.)


  1. goof houlihan

    “But who all deserves to have the city subsidize…?”

    Nobody. It isn’t about personal entitlement.

    When I was checking out a related issue, I found that, in another town, ALL the firemen already owned homes, and most worked in the construction biz and opposed affordable housing ordinances.

    YOu seem to lean heavily towards unionized professions. Teachers, police, firemen, etc.


    How about waitresses, bank tellers, bookkeepers, small store owners. I can make at least as good an argument for the necessitiy for small businesses to be created to keep a town viable as any other profession. Putting 50% of dollars into housing has to be at least as big a hardship to small business owners as it is anyone else.

    So, I’m back to “no one is entitled” regardless of their job. What is important is considering affordable housing as important as streets or water infrastructure, and phrasing the discussion that way.

  2. I agree with you 200% goof. My list could have gone on forever.

    I do talk about economic viability when I talk about the need for affordable housing.

    Having been involved intimately with affordable housing, I got a little irked seeing that policeman were the focus of the discussion (although, to be honest, the primary subject on the discussion was recruiting of police).

    I believe any of the affordable housing professionals here (or anywhere) would agree with what you have to say.

    This start, though, is usually the beginning of serious discussion (from what I’ve seen) of affordable housing, and it starts just like this – someone mentions one “essential” job, and the can is opened.

    Everyone is essential – affordable housing isn’t just about a few professions that have to be around -its about economic viability – and that includes, like you said, waiters and waitresses, clerks, banktellers, small business owners, etc.

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