Packed In: North Idaho’s housing costs drive away police recruits

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) — High housing prices in northern Idaho are making it difficult to attract police officers, law enforcement officials say.

Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Dave Hagar tells the Coeur d’Alene Press that low crime rates and an outdoor lifestyle are big draws but that skyrocketing housing prices are turning people away.

“Five years ago, the cost of living in Coeur d’Alene was much more reasonable,” Hagar said. “Now it’s gone above that.”

The Coeur d’Alene Association of Realtors said the median residential home sale price was $476,000 in March. That’s a 47% increase from a year ago.

Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris said his agency has recruited new hires only to have them decline the job after discovering they couldn’t afford housing.

“It’s a significant barrier,” he said. “The housing situation is severe.”

The agency is looking to hire deputies, dispatchers, control room operators, clerks and jail staff.

“We’re going to have to attract local candidates,” Norris said. “We can’t do that when some of our pay is $14 or $15 an hour.”

Kootenai County Commissioner Bill Brooks said other county agencies are also having a hard time finding and retaining workers. Wages once considered normal are now not enough.

“It’s crazy,” Brooks said. “We’ve had people accept jobs and come back two days later saying, ‘I can’t live here.’”

He said that’s putting pressure on the county budget, with agencies focusing on paying for existing programs and employees rather than adding more.

“We’re trying to craft a budget that nobody is happy with but that we can all live with,” Brooks said. “This is a needs-only budget.”