Housing measure would aid police

Goal is free or reduced rent for officers

April 02, 2006|By MELISSA HARRIS | MELISSA HARRIS,SUN REPORTER

A bill that would encourage police officers to live in Howard County by creating a list of landlords offering them free or reduced rent will be submitted to the County Council tomorrow, said west Columbia Democrat Ken Ulman, the bill's author.

The bill would leave decisions about the program's rules up to the Police Department. For instance, would officers earning lower salaries be given priority, or would officers line up for a unit on a first-come, first-served basis? The department also could allow only apartments in higher-crime areas into the program.

Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who is running for a western Howard County Council seat, declined an interview for this article, but he issued a statement through his spokeswoman, Sherry Llewellyn, saying that he "agreed with the concept" but would want the county's five-member ethics commission to review any plan developed by the department.

Just under half of all Howard County police officers --181 of 377 -- live in the county, Llewellyn said. The starting salary for Howard officers is $40,832 -- nowhere near enough to afford most homes in Howard County, where the average sales price has more than doubled to $442,500 in six years, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, a Rockville company that tracks sales.

Ulman said that he came up with idea of a formal program after listening to a complaint from an officer during a ride-along.

"I met a young officer who just moved back home with his parents in Shrewsbury, Pa.," said Ulman, who is running for county executive. "He couldn't afford to live here any more because he had a roommate, and his roommate moved out."

It is unclear whether landlords in higher-rent areas would offer the discounts to police, given the high demand for luxury rental housing in the county.

James F. Fitzgerald, president of the Howard County Police Officers Association, Local No. 86, AFL-CIO, said there would be "loads" of demand from younger officers.

"A lot of the officers we hire live outside of the county," he said. "The younger ones, their incomes are limited. They haven't started making overtime. They haven't gotten pay raises. ... They're not married, and they aren't worried where they're living as long as they have a dry roof over their head."

Neighboring police departments in Prince George's and Montgomery counties do not offer programs similar to Ulman's proposal.

However, Cpl. Clinton Coleman of the Prince George's Police Department said that he accepted an offer to reduce his rent when he lived in a Fort Washington apartment. His landlord offered him the deal on an informal basis, and it was one that could have been taken away any time. The Prince George's department was not involved in those negotiations.

"It's a trade-off because I did a certain amount of security work there for them," Coleman said. "They took off a percentage from my rent for the fact that a police cruiser was able to stay on the property, and when I came home late at night, I would ride through the complex a few times and make sure there were no loiterers."

melissa.harris@baltsun.com

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