Establishment of a Fairfax County Home Purchase Assistance Program for Police Officers, Firefighters and EMS personnel, and Teachers
Establishment of a Fairfax County home purchase assistance program
for police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, and teachers
This board has long expressed interest in finding ways to help our police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, teachers, and other county employees find affordable ways to live within the county. Too many of our employees are driven to live in other jurisdictions to take advantage of lower housing costs, resulting in an undesirable commute, providing a disincentive to their remaining as our employees, and depriving our communities of the benefits of having these employees live in our county.
At the same time as these employees desire to live in Fairfax County, thousands of homes in Fairfax sit vacant due to foreclosures, and thousands of others are much more affordable today than they were just a few years ago. With an enhanced county housing policy we can match the desire of these employees to live in Fairfax with the availability of more affordable private sector housing, creating a benefit for our communities, our employees, and our government.
Therefore, I urge the Board to adopt a program to help police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, and teachers to purchase homes in Fairfax County. Yes, we do have some existing programs that seek to meet this goal to some extent. The Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority strives to create workforce housing opportunities by way of its Magnet Housing Program. It is anticipated that the project on the campus of the Government Center will be heavily focused on county employees. In March, this Board asked county staff to examine the possibility of establishing a program similar to Prince William County’s Home Help program. These efforts should continue, but we can and should do more.
My proposal is this. Eligible employees under my proposal would be police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel, and teachers who have been permanent employees of Fairfax County or Fairfax County Public Schools for five straight years and have received at least satisfactory performance evaluations during that time period. These employees could then apply to receive a no-interest, but capped, loan from the County without further collateral for use as a down payment on a principal residence in Fairfax County. For the subsequent ten years, the County would forgive one-tenth of the loan each year, provided the employee remained working for Fairfax County or Fairfax County Public Schools and continued to receive at least satisfactory performance appraisals. If the employee left through resignation or a for-cause termination, the balance of the loan would be due and owing immediately.
The exact structure of the program would be designed by staff or this Board at a later date, but for the purpose of illustration, assume the following hypothetical example: The Board appropriates $2.5 million in a fiscal year, and sets a maximum loan amount of $25,000.00. Therefore, at least 100 eligible employees could be served in that year. The loan amount represents about half of the required 20 percent down payment on a $250,000.00 home. Many homes in that price range are currently for sale in the County, which is a change from past years. A participating employee borrows $25,000.00. He or she buys a home in Fairfax County, probably focusing on homes in foreclosure or other homes which have entered the price range where the employee can now make the monthly payments. For each of the next ten years, $2,500.00 of the loan is forgiven. At the end of ten years, the loan has been totally forgiven.
The program is a win-win-win. The participating employee is able to buy a home in Fairfax County that he or she may not have otherwise been able to purchase. The employee has received a $2,500.00 benefit each year, which is a modest benefit from the County. The employee has a strong incentive to remain with the County and to keep his or her job performance at at least a satisfactory level. The County has retained, and can attract, quality employees. Our communities gain upstanding neighbors to fill empty homes. The program would be flexible enough to change the level of appropriated funds each year and could be expanded to other employees if it proves a success.
Details of this program need to be worked out and it should be discussed by the Board at its upcoming retreat during the discussion of other housing issues. Therefore, I move that this proposal be referred to the County Executive with instructions to have staff review and refine the proposal in advance of the Board’s June retreat, and that this matter be added to the agenda for the retreat.