Daniel Zetterholm felt like he had it all at 25: a beautiful wife, two young children and his dream job as a deputy with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office
“I always had a heart for service. My parents brought me up to be a protector,” Zetterholm said.
Even better, there was no place he’d rather be.
“I like the mountains, I like hunting and fishing, and the slower-paced, community-oriented life,” he said. “This is where we wanted to raise our children.”
There was just one missing piece of the puzzle, however. And it was a pretty big piece. Unable to find an affordable starter home in Haywood County, Zetterholm was forking out $1,300 a month for a small apartment in Asheville. Between the 12-hour shifts and a two-hour round trip drive, he felt like he was missing the golden years as a father.
“We didn’t think we were ever going to have a house. It was super frustrating and super challenging,” Zetterholm said. “When houses don’t start anywhere close to what you are making, you’re like ‘What do I do?’”
Unfortunately, Zetterholm had been here before. His first stint as a Haywood deputy was four years ago, as a fresh graduate from the Haywood Community College law enforcement program.
He commuted from the rural Spring Creek community of Madison County, and it took him over an hour to get to work on the curvy, winding roads in his ‘99 Dodge Dakota.
So after less than a year, he quit, moved to Asheville and got a job with the police department there. When his second child was born, he knew he had to find a way back. On a leap of faith, he returned to the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, hoping this time he could find a house and make it work. As the months passed, however, that hope was fading.
“We’d made the decision for my wife to stay home with the kids, but it’s hard to try to build a life when you are paying two-thirds of your income on housing, and you aren’t even building equity,” he said.
The shortage of affordable starter homes presents a hurdle in the recruitment and retention of young law enforcement officers like Zetterholm.
“We’re competing with places that offer higher salaries and where the housing market is wide open,” said Jeff Haynes, chief deputy for the Haywood Sheriff’s Office. “It can be challenging.”
Haynes is hopeful the Smoky Mountain Housing Partnership by Mountain Projects will be a solution.
“The ability to help younger deputies establish themselves as a homeowner would be an incredible incentive,” Haynes said. “It is not only an investment in our public safety servants and those in service to others — our teachers, nurses, EMTs, paramedics — it is an investment back in the community when we can retain the experience we have.”
As for Zetterholm, he’s thankfully no longer commuting from Asheville. After months of prayers, he found a for-sale-by-owner house through his extended church family this summer.
“It was a total God thing,” Zetterholm said.
He is proudly embracing the role of a first-time homeowner and all that comes with it — even when it meant coming to work in damp pants after his dryer broke.
“I’m the guy who has to get behind it with a wrench at 4:30 in the morning when I get home. But one day I’ll be able to say ‘This is mine,’” Zetterholm said. “I’ve got roots here now. I am building this life here and that is a cool reciprocal feeling when you are part of the community.”