Pr. William launches program to help officers live in community

October 3, 2011

As a Prince William County police officer, Joel Lewton said he didn’t know how he would be able to afford a home of his own one day and still keep a job he loves.

But with the help of a new county program, the 30-year-old Lewton is on his way to becoming a homeowner.

Officials with the Prince William County Historic Preservation Division are rehabilitating two homes in Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park for county police officers to live in at a reduced rent. The officers will patrol the property and most of the rent paid, county officials said, will be set aside for later use as a down payment on a county home.

“My wife and I have been renting a townhouse, but rent in this area is high,” Lewton said. “It is kind of unfortunate [that] it is hard for me to buy a house in the county [where] I work . . . with my salary. This seemed like an awesome idea to save money and help the county.”

Historic Preservation Division Chief Brendon Hanafin came up with the idea to rehabilitate the homes about four years ago, when he saw a Catholics For Housing presentation about affordable housing at a county board meeting.

As a former Virginia state parks employee who lived on park property, Hanafin said he knew the security benefit of having someone on historic property consistently, and with his proposal, they would also be able to fix up two historic homes that the county took possession of several years ago.

“I see this as a win-win for the police and the community,” county Police Chief Charlie Deane said. “This adds security to our historic sites, provides an opportunity for newer officers to establish their residency in the county, and it encourages them to stay.”

The two homes — a farmhouse and a bungalow — sit on the 133-acre Bristoe Park, the site of two Civil War battles. They date to the 1890s and 1905, respectively.

Using about $80,000 in proffer funds that developers allocated for affordable housing, Hanafin said, officials in his division updated the farmhouse by adding sewer and water systems, replacing the roof and making other repairs. The bungalow was in much better condition and only cost “a few thousand” to update, Hanafin said. The appliances were donated by the police department.

As a history buff, Lewton said, he is happy to be living on historic property and helping the county patrol the trails and parkland. Lewton, who is with the county’s crash investigation unit, started at the police academy in 2008 and quickly applied to get the historic home when an e-mail went out to the department in November.

“I remember in June, Brendon called me and said, ‘Congratulations, you and your wife have a house,’ ” Lewton said. “The biggest benefit is being able to now save up and purchase our own house.”

The two officers will pay $700 to $800 a month each, with $500 of that set aside for their future home in Prince William, Hanafin said, adding that the rest will go to maintaining the home. The officers will be asked to stay for three to five years and patrol the property daily. Hanafin said it is hoped that relic-hunting and “after-hour activity” on the property will diminish with a police officer living on the grounds.

“The officers will take home cars . . . and we find that visibility is very assuring to residents,” Deane said. “This will put our officers exactly where we want them, in terms of protecting historic properties.”

Hanafin said finishing touches are being completed on Lewton’s home, and the plan is for him to move in at the end of this month, after county supervisors approve the lease. The bungalow, he said, should be ready next month.

When the officers are ready to move out in a few years, Hanafin said, the homes will be ready for other police officers looking for affordable housing.

“It is very expensive to recruit and train officers, so it’s in the best interest of the county that we retain them,” Deane said. “We all win when officers live in the community.”

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