Teachers and police can’t afford homes in Prince William County. Local leaders are hoping to fix that

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Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Deshundra Jefferson has ordered staff to study the feasibility of a program to help county employees afford homes in Prince William so they can live closer to work.

Jefferson said the move is primarily aimed at law enforcement, teachers and fire responders, all county service workers who are often not high earners. Many employees in those groups commute from out of the county, coming from Stafford or Spotsylvania counties, where they can afford to own a home, officials said.

“That’s kind of what I would like to see is people who are on the front lines, serving and protecting communities so that they can really be a part of the community,” Jefferson said, noting the example of a police officer she recently spoke with who commutes north from Spotsylvania County because they can’t afford to buy in Prince William.

Jefferson said county staff members are expected to bring a recommendation before the board on a potential program in the coming months.

She’s hoping to model it off a program offered to employees in Loudoun County, which gives a $10,000 loan grant for the purchase of a home within the county. Those loans are forgivable at 20% of the loan amount annually over a five-year period if the employee doesn’t leave county employment or the home.

The move is intended to help alleviate staffing shortages in the critical fields like first responders and educators, which have been suffering from a lack of workers for the past few years.

Prince William County Police Chief Peter Newsham said he supports Jefferson’s initiative. He said “time will tell” whether the plan will help alleviate staffing shortages, but the department has had an easier time recruiting in recent months after the board approved a collective bargaining agreement that raised pay for police.

But Newsham said housing affordability remains a major obstacle for the Prince William police force.

“I’m a firm believer that police officers should live in the community that they work in, and I also understand that a lot of our officers do not live in Prince William County because of the cost,” Newsham said. “If you talk to them, they would prefer not to commute. A lot of them would prefer to live in the county, and they don’t do it because they can’t afford it.”

Newsham continued, “The value that I see for our officers living in the community that they serve is they become part of the community. They get to know people. People are more likely to tell them things that they don’t know as a neighbor as opposed to just a police officer.”

Representatives with the Prince William Education Association, the local teachers’ union, did not return a request for comment.

“Although we don’t have specific information on this directive, PWCS supports efforts to attract and retain quality employees,” school system spokesperson Meghan Silas said in a statement.

Another county department that has faced staffing shortages is the planning office, but officials indicated Jefferson’s directive would bear little impact on the department.

“There is no data that shows that the planning staffing challenges were related to housing opportunities for employees,” county spokesperson Nikki Brown said in an email.

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