Police research: The impact of housing costs and availability on LEOs

Two-thirds of survey respondents said high housing costs are making it more difficult to recruit new officers


Are housing costs impacting the ability of your agency to hire new officers? Have officers left your agency because they couldn't find acceptable housing? 

To better understand how the current lack of affordable housing is impacting police officers, Police1 conducted a survey about the impact of housing costs and availability on LEOs.

To view the complete results, fill out the form below to download the survey.

SURVEY METHODOLOGY AND RESPONDENT DEMOGRAPHICS

Police1 developed a 16-question survey, open from June 11, 2021, to June 21, 2021. A total of 319 responses were collected using a Microsoft Form. 

Respondents were evenly divided regarding location. Of those surveyed, 30% serve a rural response area, 32% serve a suburban response area and 37% serve an urban response area.

Nearly half of respondents had nine years or less on the job, a third had 10-20 years of law enforcement and nearly 20% had more than 21 years of experience.

Just under a third worked in departments of 49 people or fewer, just under a half worked in departments with 50-499 staff members and just under a fifth worked in departments staffed with more than 500 officers.

Housing costs and availability

We asked respondents about housing costs in their area. Just over half (57%) said housing costs are so high they are an obstacle to hiring while 25% said housing costs are manageable for most officers. Fifteen percent said housing costs are manageable only for lateral transfers, while only 3% said housing costs are not an issue.

Regarding housing availability, 14% of those surveyed said low inventory is an obstacle, while 24% said high costs are the biggest obstacle. Nearly two-thirds answered that both these factors impact housing availability.    

Half of the respondents indicated housing availability and affordability has been an ongoing problem for years, while 43% said it is a new problem that has emerged over the past two years. 

Respondents were asked to select factors impacting housing affordability in their area. Officer pay and an influx of new buyers from other areas were the highest-ranked factors, followed by the surrounding boom and bust economy and tourism.

While the majority of respondents (70%) said officers in their area all have home solutions, 18% indicated officers rent hotel rooms and apartments with other officers, 8% said officers sleep in temporary accommodation like campsites and 4% said officers sleep in their vehicles.  

The average commute time for survey respondents is 30 minutes to an hour (44%), with 39% commuting 15-30 minutes. Eleven percent of respondents have a commute of less than 15 minutes, while 6% have a commute longer than an hour.

Impact on recruitment and retention

We asked respondents if officers had left agencies because they were unable to find adequate housing. A third (34%) agreed and a third (36%) disagreed.

Regarding whether high housing costs are making it more difficult to recruit new officers, two-thirds (68%) said yes, while 13% said no.  

the housing boom impact

We asked respondents to share how housing availability issues have impacted them and their families. Here is a summary of the 113 responses we received.

The impact on out-of-state hires and lateral transfers

  • As an out-of-state hire from the north to Tennessee, the low pay and booming housing market is making finding affordable housing a challenge. I am working two jobs to make ends meet and save enough. Other deputies are commuting over an hour to less costly areas. Others are choosing to continue renting rather than buy a home in this condition.
  • As a lateral from a local agency to a federal agency in a new state, I don’t make enough to buy a house right now. The problem is housing prices continue to increase and I’m concerned that once I make enough to buy a house I won’t be able to afford one in town at that point and will have to commute a significant distance.

The impact of people fleeing other states

  • I was forced to build a house due to out-of-state folks bidding up to 50k over asking prices on houses.
  • We are a rural community far away from big cities but are experiencing a huge influx of people from urban areas moving into our community, buying everything up and driving up the prices of housing just coming onto the market. In talking with the local realtors, a lot of our housing is being bought sight unseen over the internet. 
  • I’m a seasoned officer with over 27 years in law enforcement. People are moving to Texas in droves from everywhere. Our housing prices are going through the roof. People are paying around $30,000 more than the asking prices. When my kids graduate college, they may now have to live with me. 
  • In the last two years, prices have steadily increased, availability has dropped and many from out of state have started to move to our area. The result is new officers at starting wages cannot purchase a house as many did not have a house to sell to come here or the area they came from had a lower cost of living and made way less than what they face in this region. That, along with the low inventory of homes or apartments, condos, etc., and an amazing amount of Californians moving to the area, with large amounts of money who out-bid by hundreds of thousands for houses, are driving up prices and creating an inflation reaction. We have officers who commute because they have no other choice 45 minutes to an hour simply to have a place to live. 

The impact of high-priced locations

  • Due to low inventory and high prices in Silicon Valley, I will never be able to afford to buy a home in close proximity to my agency. Traffic in the Bay Area is absolutely terrible so having a home close to my department after a regular 10-hour shift plus 6 hours of forced overtime due to low staffing would be the safest and ideal situation. The lack of hope to own a stable home is just another immense obstacle to overcome.
  • Hawaii is one of the most expensive places to live in the nation, and officers need to do an incredulous amount of overtime in order to afford housing on any island. I live on the cheapest island, and even now there are older houses that are selling for $300,000-$400,000, and the base pay for officers here is in the ballpark of 60k a year. With overtime and special duty incentives officers make enough money to afford homes, but it comes at the cost of sacrificing time with family and activities outside of work.
  • I rent a room in a house with other roommates (non-LEO) in order to save up for a down payment for a house (outside LA County) that doesn't cost $600,000-$800,000 for a small property. As a result, I commute to work and have to commute to visit family since relatives can't visit in my rented room. Some LEOs commute 30-60 min from a nearby county due to similar reasons.
  • I cannot afford to live in or near the city where I work. This results in the added cost of commuting long distances to and from work, along with causing additional wear and tear on my personal vehicle.
  • The San Francisco Bay Area is particularly hard hit. The rate of start pay versus the cost to live somewhere safe does not match up. City government is not friendly to law enforcement and officers are not safe living where they work. I do not know one officer who is not commuting to work a minimum of 45 minutes to an hour each way. In San Francisco, if there is a major incident that closes bridges, the majority of the officers will not be able to get to work and they mostly live on the other side of the two bridges. A $1 million home in San Francisco ($1.8 million is median) will cost you $4,561 a month in mortgage and $10,000 in property taxes a year (based on a 30-year loan @3.6% and credit score 700-719). Oakland is not much better. It is rough for anyone trying to work or live in the Bay Area unless they inherited the property.

The impact of residency requirements

  • I am required to live within my district but cannot find affordable housing to buy. Therefore, I kept my previous home, which is about half an hour away and rent a cheap apartment inside my district lines that serves as my “residence.” It puts a serious financial burden on me, but I can’t afford housing and don’t want to make my family move and live in an apartment. From talking to other officers, I know this is an ongoing problem and many do the same thing.

The impact on recruitment

  • I bought my home 4 years ago. The average price of homes in our area now has doubled in that time. There is no way I would be able to afford a home now with what I currently make. Nor can I sell my home and pull my equity out to put into another home due to outrageous home prices. This really hurts our recruitment. The average age of our department is 55 years old. Half of our department is scheduled to retire within the next 5 years. It is going to be almost impossible to recruit new deputies.
  • I recently came back into law enforcement. I had well over a decade of experience, left and came back due to the job market where I was living. The agency that hired me, the first question that I was asked at my interview was "Do you have a place to live?" and when I told them that I did, they said that was the biggest issue they were having in trying to find people. The person they hired before me had to live in a different state for 4 months before he found a place locally.
  • I have had to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket on AirBnB and hotels. It took two months to find an apartment, and without owning a home previously and Transfer Of Station funding not being offered there was no option to find a home before having to start work. Homes are gone within hours or a few days due to the market and they are very overpriced.

The impact on family life

  • I live in a camper and commute to my home on weekends. It strains my marriage a little. 
  • I couldn’t imagine the struggles that officers face in those destination towns. A house sold in Ohio for $80,000-$120,000 goes for almost a million in parts of Colorado and there is almost no inventory within 100 miles of these places. For a profession that relies on a good work/family balance to support good officers making good decisions, the housing situation makes it nearly impossible, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting out of the profession and looking for something closer to home. There are many problems in this profession these days, but housing isn’t one of those problems in my area. I consider myself fortunate for that because I know it’s a huge problem for many officers and agencies.
  • I am in the process of getting a divorce. There will no longer be a two-party income. I am leaving LE to find a job with more pay so that I can afford to live. I’ve been an LEO for 10 years. I will find something with better hours, better pay and where the public doesn’t resent you.
  • There is some "affordable" housing in the area close to our jobs, but it usually means renting a studio apartment. This may work for single officers, but for officers with relationships and spouses, that is not healthy or sustainable.
  • The pay differential is only available in small segments of the state. Ironically some of the highest housing cost areas like the large metro areas receive no housing differential because of a theory that there are more housing options in those locations. If it were not for my wife making 2 to 3 times my salary, we will be renting in an economically depressed high-crime area. Low pay and no ability to provide housing result in fewer recruits, which results in more hours and more work stress for those of us who are established in the agency.
  • Without family assistance, I would have to live in dilapidated housing or outside of my jurisdiction. If I live outside of my jurisdiction, I am not promotable.

How is your department addressing housing costs and availability? Email editor@police1.com.

NEXT: When housing costs hinder hiring

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