Charlottesville police Detective Nick Rudman wanted a home where his young daughter could have room to run around — and maybe even have a puppy — without living miles from town. That dream came true this year after the veteran officer received a little help from the law enforcement community.
The city of Charlottesville has become a hub of cultural amenities and entertainment hotspots, but data show it can be an expensive place to live. For many city police officers, the financial burden is too great.
That’s where the Charlottesville Police Foundation comes in. Since 2008, the foundation has offered a housing program to help city police officers afford the down payment on a home. The foundation sponsors grants that can be put toward the initial down payment and also works with local real estate agents to give the officers a discount on fees, said Mindy Goodall, executive director of the foundation.
“We recognize the police do not make large salaries and that it’s expensive to live in Charlottesville,” Goodall said. “We’re trying to close the gap between their salary and the cost of housing in Charlottesville.”
“We also recognize that being a police officer is a very portable job and they can live anywhere in the country,” she said. “Why would an officer want to work with the Charlottesville Police Department? This makes it more attractive for new recruits to stay here.”
The median sales price of a home in Charlottesville is $271,000, according to a recent report from the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors. While that’s down a few thousand dollars from last year’s average of $275,000, Nelson County’s median price, for example, is $179,000.
“It’s a difficult place for entry-level job folks and, unfortunately, that a lot of times includes police officers, firefighters and teachers,” said Ray Caddell, a Realtor at Century 21 in Charlottesville. “It’s an expensive town to live in. All the things that make the area great keep housing prices not as affordable as we’d like them to be.”
To qualify for assistance, an officer must be in good standing at the department and must be in the right income level. There also are some basic rules about the home’s location, but for the most part, the foundation just wants to help officers make a home in the city they serve.
“The property must be in the city or within a two-mile radius of the nearest border,” Goodall said. “We don’t dictate which neighborhoods they can live in. We just want officers to be invested in this community and be close enough to respond in the case of an emergency.”
Rudman has 18 years of experience in law enforcement, 15 of which are with the Charlottesville police department. He wanted to become a police officer to help people and has since become interested in computer forensics.
“Law enforcement has been good to me and my career; I’ve been able to do a lot of different things,” Rudman said. “[Computer forensics] sort of ended up being my niche, so to speak.”
With help from the police foundation, Rudman was able to put a down payment on a three-level townhouse in the city. Before receiving the grant, Rudman had been living in an apartment outside of the city, and with an 8-year-old daughter, the apartment felt tiny at times. Now, with a new three-bedroom home that has an open-concept kitchen and a living room — as well as a recreation room and fenced-in backyard — Rudman and his family have room to grow.
“It was great to get my daughter out of an apartment,” Rudman said, smiling. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the foundation. We’re trying to get rooms together and it’s a little overwhelming, but I guess you have to have a long vision,” he added.
Since the assistance is a grant, Goodall said the recipient does not have to worry about paying the money back — as long as the officer sticks around for at least five years. The grant acts as an incentive to keep officers employed with the Charlottesville department.
“After five years, the officer owes us nothing, but if he or she moves before then, the officer would owe back the rest of the grant,” Goodall said. “It helps with retention because it costs the city a lot of money — at least $20,000 — to recruit and train a new officer.”
“Once you put all of that money into an officer, you want them to stay,” she continued. “It’s also good for the community. We want our police officers to live amongst us. You need to have a relationship with the people you serve.”
Rudman, the 10th officer with the Charlottesville police to receive a housing program grant, used the $20,000 for his down payment. The grant program also works with local Realtors and businesses to give the recipient additional discounts on the home, including the Realtor fee and closing costs.
“For a lot of these officers, it’s difficult to be saving up for a down payment on their salaries,” Goodall said. “They don’t make a lot more money as they progress in their careers, either, so for a lot of them, it means they get to buy a home for the first time. Some of them have chosen to live as far as an hour away. It’s a hardship on them and their families. This program shows that we appreciate the officers and that we’ll take care of them, like they take care of us.”
For Rudman, a new home means he is closer to work, as well as his daughter’s school and they have room to spread out. The detective started looking at homes in January after filling out a grant application and closed on his new home in June.
“I actually thought I’d never be a homeowner,” Rudman said. “It feels great; it was overwhelming. It’s great and I just see my daughter rolling on the floors.
“The process was great. It was really smooth.”
The police foundation was put together in 2004 to help city officers get more training, work with the community and find affordable housing. Every year, the foundation helps at least two officers purchase homes in an effort to get them more involved with the community they serve.
“It’s a great opportunity for people who work here,” Rudman said. “It also keeps people here. It helps people who are just starting out and for people in my situation. It really helped me out.”
Lauren Berg reports for The Daily Progress. She can be reached at email@example.com or 978-7263.