This story in the Santa Fe Reporter made me wonder whether Police Officers have outgrown these types of programs. At the same time some residents don't want the officers living in their neighborhood. In the story Mark Sanders describes some residents who oppose a program called the Caretaker Housing in City Parks. The Program would provide affordable housing for police in city parks. It is designed to provide more security to parks and the neighborhoods which surround them as well as help provide local housing for officers who increasingly are living in outlying areas and communities such as Rio Rancho.
This is a serious problem as I described in this blog post entitled "cops don't live here anymore". Mark didn't mention what kind of housing would be put into the parks. Will they be manufactured housing? Mobile Homes? or real single family housing? These questions among others are important. Also the city may want to do a survey or take applications to find out just how many officers would live in this type of housing. When I first became a rookie officer in 1988 I started at a little over $6 an hour. we had city police officers living in city housing projects. Not as part of a community policing program but because they qualified to live there based on their income and family size. Many officers were also on the Federal Food Stamp Program. Aside from retirement which has always been good for law enforcement officers in New Mexico, men and women really became officers because they wanted to help others and because they grew up wanting to be cops, not for the pay.
Now starting pay for officers is up to a respectable level of just under $15 an hour with officers making $18 an hour and more after the first year. Officers now expect more in terms of where they are willing to live. That is one reason many move to or buy houses in Rio Rancho and surrounding communities. It is not only that affordable housing is not easily available in Santa Fe but also the fact that your dollar buys a lot more outside of Santa Fe. Larger lot sizes, more square footage, and a new home for the price of an older used home in Santa Fe.
I often get people who want to rent guest homes or other housing in Santa Fe to a Law Enforcement Officer. Usually they are small guest homes or maybe a mobile home located on a business lot. The owner hopes to rent to an officer at a low rental rate in exchange for the security of having an officer living on their property. We also often have city and county properties including housing located in government housing projects or blighted areas offered to officers for little or no rent. Officers used to jump on these properties but in the past few years many of these offers go without takers. Officers are still underpaid compared to the levels of training, dedication, and hazards of the job. However, officers can now afford better and like all who want the American Dream they strive for better.
I am curious just how many officers will take these houses in the parks and whether or not the homes and yards can be made appealing to young officers and their families. I also hope the city considers the turnover that occurs in these types of homes. Once the officer saves money and moves up in pay and rank they will move on from this type of housing and hopefully into a home they own, still in Santa Fe. We really need to focus on making it appealing and financially sound for officers to become City of Santa Fe home owners rather than citizens of Rio Rancho. I commend the City of Santa Fe for doing something to keep officers living local and I hope they have considered the factors I describe in this post along with others to make this program successful.