Police officers struggle to afford Asheville addresses

HOUSING CRUNCH: Only 23 of 163 Asheville Police Department officers live within the city limits, and of those, only eight own a home. While some officers may choose to live outside Asheville for a number of reasons, Asheville Police Chief Mike Lamb sees affordability as a driving factor for many officers. Photo courtesy of APD

The days of living next to a local police officer, with his or her presence adding a layer of safety and community, are mostly over in Asheville.

Today, 86% of Asheville police officers live outside city limits, according to Asheville Police Department spokesperson Samantha Booth. According to APD policy, officers are not required to reside within the city limits but must live within a 45-mile radius of 60 Court Plaza, the City Hall complex. 

Booth says that officers live all around Buncombe County and beyond, including Hendersonville, Morganton and Flat Rock. Some commute from as far away as Etowa and Nebo, with the farthest APD officer living more than 30 miles away, she says.

Only 23 of 163 APD officers live within the city limits, and of those, only eight own a home while the other 15 rent an apartment. 

While some officers may choose to live outside Asheville for several reasons, Asheville Police Chief Mike Lamb sees affordability within the city as a driving factor for many in the department. 

“I believe it’s mainly just because of the cost of living within the city,” says Lamb. “It’s difficult for officers, given their salary and their rate of pay, to be able to afford a home in the city that they serve.”

Those calling for reform emphasize community-focused policing as a way for officers to build and sustain relationships within the neighborhoods they serve. But what does it mean for Asheville when local law enforcement is priced out of the city? 


Chief Lamb, who has been with APD since 1998, says that when he first started at the department, he moonlighted as a courtesy officer at the Haw Creek Mews apartments in East Asheville, which allowed him to save money to eventually buy land and build a home. 

“An apartment complex will contract with a police officer to do a variety of things, like nighttime checks, maybe even lock up a swimming pool or handle any nuisance complaints,” Lamb explains. “In doing those services, officers get a reduced rate of rent. That’s what I was able to take advantage of in 1998.”

While courtesy officer opportunities still exist, Asheville’s housing market has changed dramatically since the late ’90s. As of December, the median home sale price in Asheville was $455,250, representing a 7.9% increase from one year prior. 

“There’s a lot of people who want to live here,” Lamb acknowledges. “People that want to move here in order to escape all the severe weather that’s happening [around the country] but also, Asheville is a nice town nestled in the mountains with a lot of attractions, and that’s keeping our housing rates up.”

Lamb says that Asheville’s housing market has been a barrier to replenishing APD’s force, which is still down 35%-40% of its staff on any given day. He says that housing in Asheville has caused some officers to leave the department for more affordable cities within the state and made recruitment from other cities a challenge. 

He recalls a recent experience in which a would-be APD officer who would have relocated from Greensboro rescinded her acceptance due to Asheville’s lack of affordable housing.

“She submitted her application, she was in the final stages of being hired. And then she started looking for apartments in Asheville to rent. And she just couldn’t find one that she could afford,” Lamb explains. “So she had to withdraw her application.”

Budget realities

In 2023, Asheville City Council approved a 6% raise for sworn officers, bringing base pay for new hires to $47,461, or roughly $22.82 per hour, as well as extra compensation for holding an intermediate law enforcement certification, working night shifts or being on call. Asheville’s living wage, the amount that a single person working full time in Buncombe County needs to make to afford basic expenses, is currently  $22.10 per hour, as calculated by Just Economics of Western North Carolina.

Fair-market rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Buncombe County in 2024 is $1,496 a month, compared with $1,298 just last year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That soaks up 37% of a beginning officer’s gross pay.

Lamb says that last year’s salary increases were crucial for the department to continue recruiting officers and to increase morale. But at this year’s Asheville City Council retreat, Finance Director Tony McDowell warned that city expenses are projected to outpace revenues starting in fiscal year 2025, which will make boosting pay challenging. 

Responding to an Xpress request for comment, Council member Kim Roney says that the city “absolutely” needs additional investments in officer pay in the upcoming fiscal year.

“What the high number of officers living outside of Asheville tells me is that our entry-level staff and officers, especially those with families, can’t afford to live in Buncombe County, much less in city limits,” Roney writes in a March 22 email. “I continue to press the city to ensure living wages in every department — including first responders — so we can recruit and retain the best staff and so they can afford to live in the communities they serve.”

Council member Sage Turner adds that nearly half of Buncombe County residents are “cost-burdened,” meaning that they pay more than 30% of their income on housing.

“Housing inventory, topography, transportation options and wages have not kept up with the demand in Asheville. We need to get more creative with housing programs and types if we want more officers to live in the city,”  Turner tells Xpress. “We need to continue to target our wage goals. The department also has granular needs, like increased overtime pay for certain shifts.” 

Both Turner and Roney are up for reelection this fall. Mayor Esther Maheimer and Council members Sheneika Smith, Antanette Mosley, Maggie Ullman and Vice Mayor Sandra Kilgore did not respond to multiple requests for comment regarding officer pay and housing ahead of press time. 

Meanwhile, City Manager Debra Campbell gave a general statement regarding officer pay and Asheville’s affordability concerns and noted that the city is working to identify barriers to adding missing middle housing, among other housing initiatives.

Honor Moor, who co-chairs the Asheville Coalition for Public Safety, an APD advocacy group that helped push for pay raises for police last year, says that the group plans to again lobby for higher wages during this year’s budget season.

“We’re going to continue to advocate for raising entry-level salaries to reflect an equitable salary that is seen in other cities our size,” says Moor. “I see this to be a long-term challenge for the City of Asheville. If they don’t prioritize a significant increase for entry-level workers, we’re not going to be able to cultivate and get our staffing levels up where they should be.” 

“I would definitely like to see another increase just to keep us competitive,” adds Lamb. “But we also know that we’re one department in a whole city and that [Council members] have to consider all the salary and benefits for all city employees.”

Council will hear a presentation of the city manager’s proposed budget at the regular Council meeting Tuesday, May 14. A public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, May 28, with the vote on the final budget adoption expected Tuesday, June 11. 

Creative solutions

Meanwhile, some local business owners are taking it upon themselves to be a part of APD’s housing solutions.

Anthony Coggiola and his wife, Sherrye, own the downtown restaurant Mayfels and The Cantina in Biltmore Village. Coggiola says that some of the most underpaid professions — police officers, firefighters and teachers — are among the most important to any community.

“When you look at first responders, when you look at school nurses, when you look at fire or police, they’re committed to a life of service. They’re not going to get wealthy money-wise from that work. Their passion is to serve,” Coggiola maintains.  “So, why shouldn’t we, as the business community, try to see what we can do to ease their burden and allow them to live in the neighborhoods that they serve?”

Coggiola says he has been working with eight local investors and developers who have expressed interest in creating privately funded workforce housing for not only police officers and other first responders but also teachers, service industry workers and other vital professionals who often struggle to live within the city. 

The Coggiolas remodeled homes in Asheville and offered them to some of their restaurant managers at a reduced rate. 

“[Managers] have to come in frequently — sometimes the truck gets delivered late, or different things come up — and they’ve got to drive downtown. So we see this as an advantage. And so not only do they get a salary, but part of their package is a housing option,” he explains. “We know it’s a good investment when we lower that gateway of entry to housing. So, we’re already putting our money where our mouth is.”

Coggiola says the same method could be used to create workforce housing that could potentially impact “hundreds” of workers without any financial investment from local governments.

“Maybe the return on that investment isn’t outrageously great. But we have to have safer communities,” Coggiola says. “So, are we willing to sacrifice a little bit of our return on investment, to do housing for these critical folks that make our community safer and more secure? And that answer to me is ‘Absolutely, yes.’”

Coggiola says he’s been in talks with both city and county leaders, as well as APD. While the proposal is “no longer in its infancy,” he and others are still working out the details.

“We have investors in the real estate community, and they’re looking at it really hard. We’ve demonstrated through some of the things that we’ve tested it out,” he explains. “What what we need is a groundswell of support to say, ‘This is the direction that we want to go now.’”

Community mindset

Council members Turner and Roney say officers living within the city that they serve are important in building and maintaining relationships and vital to the city’s stated goal of reimaging public safety.

BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS: While a majority of Asheville police officers live outside the city limits, Asheville Police Department Chief Mike Lamb, second from left, maintains that the department is committed to community policing through ongoing events and outreach efforts, such as Coffee With A Cop. Photo courtesy of APD

 “Commuting long distances means increased cost of transportation and more time away from family, but it also means Asheville’s less likely to have the accountability of relationships by being in community — going to the grocery store together and our kids learning at school together,” Roney says.

“It would be wonderful to have more officers living in and owning homes in the city,” adds Turner. “Officers that reside in the community they serve know their neighbors, their grocery clerks and parking lots, their partner services, teachers, bus drivers, etc. Their kids go to school together, play sports, and build community.”

Chief Lamb echoes that sentiment, saying, “When we have stronger relationships within the community, we have stronger trust between the community and police.”

But he also emphasizes that community policing is a mindset more than a geographical location. APD officers have ample opportunities to interact with the public through community events and outreach efforts. One such event is Coffee with a Cop, in which community members have the opportunity to meet Asheville’s law enforcement, share concerns and get to know officers on a first-name basis. 

Despite Asheville’s affordability issues, Lamb says recruiting is getting better, particularly in attracting candidates from other police departments. He says that from 2017 to May 2023, the department only had two lateral hires. But since May, the department has had five lateral transfers, with three more that are being finalized.

Lamb says that is a sign that officers feel that working for APD is worth making the drive. 

“We have a great internal culture, and we’re also starting to see a strong supportive culture within the community as well,” he says.


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6 thoughts on “Police officers struggle to afford Asheville addresses

  1. dub

    EVERY WORKING PERSON IN ASHEVILLE struggles to afford Asheville addresses. We’re all victims of capital, and like every other working person, they can move or get a better paying job. Maybe cops should start advocating for short term rental and air bnb bans along with rent control.

    • Hiram

      Yes, agreed. Tourism and short term rentals have negatively impacted the housing market. For this reason, I believe that cops, teachers and health care workers/caregivers should be among those moved to the front of the line for long-term affordable housing…That is, they should be given precedence above those who cater to tourists in restaurants that we regular folks can’t afford. If housing became a perk of serving our community, then more humans might become teachers, nurses, law enforcement personnel.

      • luther blissett

        For all the discussion about affordable housing options — which is just tweaking at the edges — public sector pay is a simple spreadsheet problem. Raise salaries and either raise taxes or cut other services.

        This means Honor Moor and her cop cheerleading squad need to be honest about the math: do they want to raise taxes or do they want to cut services?

    • NFB

      Short term rentals/AIBNBs are banned in most parts of Asheville, but this ban is under threat from the Republican state legislature (you know, Republicans who spent their years as the minority party in Raleigh advocating for local control but stared micro managing local counties and municipalities when they won?)

      Rent control is banned by state law and thus cannot be enacted in Asheville, or anywhere else in the state.

  2. Mike Rains

    Greater affordability in housing cannot even be close to being “solved” at the local level. This is a national disgrace that resulted from American leaders deciding to make “all things housing” a signficant industry for the country as our manufacturing was being lost overseas. That “plan” combined with the huge inequality in wealth, which also resulted from American leadership changes to the tax codes starting with Reagan, and we have the perfect storm of the wealthier buying up the housing stock.

    Frankly, I wish more time/effort were spend on things that are under the control of local government. This, unfortunately, is not one of them. At least for now.

  3. David Modaff

    Why are there no interviews with the officers themselves? Isn’t their perspective what matters? What are the ratios for the higher paid officers? Many make much more than starting officers do. Do they still choose to live outside the city? Also what are the percentages for all other city employee’s living in the city versus outside. Is it comparable to the officer’s or more or less? This article seems written with a predetermined conclusion, with a few interviews and a little bit of facts to support that conclusion.

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