High housing costs force Calif. officers with long commutes to sleep in barracks

An old fire station was converted into a police substation in acknowledgment that officers cannot afford to live in the area

By Sarah Roebuck

SAN FRANSISCO — Teachers, nurses and other middle-income workers are increasingly being priced out of the area they serve. Many San Mateo police officers are finding themselves in the same situation, so some officers have found a way to catch up on sleep while avoiding crazy commutes. 

A few officers have started bunking in police barracks to catch up on sleep, the San Fransisco Chronicle reports.  An old fire station was converted into a police substation in acknowledgment that officers cannot afford to live in the area. In the three tiny rooms, there are 12 bunk beds. The substation also includes a small kitchen with a stove, microwave and refrigerator. 

Before the converted substation was an option, officers slept at headquarters. 

"It's an amazing option to have and we are very appreciative that the police department and the city pushed to get it done," Kevin Brazil, president of the San Mateo Police Officers Association,  told the SF Chronicle. "But, obviously, it has not solved the underlying housing problem."

While other California cities, such as Los Altos, Palo Alto, Daly City and San Francisco, have teacher housing developments in the works, so far no city has managed to build units targeting police officers, according to the SF Chronicle. That's why both San Mateo and Atherton police departments have created sleeping quarters where officers can relax between shifts. Back in 2019, the San Mateo City Council approved $640,000 to convert the former fire station into a police substation. 

The median house costs $1.6 million in San Mateo. Brazil said rookie officers make around $100,000, while experienced officers make between $118,000 and $140,000. A young officer can rent an apartment, but they aren't able to buy a house in the area. This also causes many officers to move further out of the city once they start families, according to Brazil.

According to a San Mateo Police Officers Association survey, around 70% of the 115 sworn officers in San Mateo don't live in the city due to the high housing costs. The average round-trip commute takes two hours and 17 minutes. 

Now the police barracks fill up most nights, with officers living as far away as Sacramento and Fairfield. The beds are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Officers can sign up through a digital list. 

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