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Boom in district-built housing slows teacher turnover

Funding comes from local governments, donations and bonds
A digital rendering of Los Angeles USD’s 66-unit, four-story Selma Community complex of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, set to be completed in fall 2016.
A digital rendering of Los Angeles USD’s 66-unit, four-story Selma Community complex of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, set to be completed in fall 2016.

From Newark to Los Angeles, districts building affordable homes for teachers hope to better retain and recruit staff as local housing costs rise and salaries remain stagnant.

Many new housing developments are in California: The city of San Francisco announced plans in October to build 100 units for the city’s educators. It may also offer rental subsidies and forgive housing loans to keep an additional 500 teachers in the area.

Cupertino Union School District announced in December that it will build 200 units for employees by 2019 on the site of a closed elementary school. And Los Angeles USD opened its first apartment complex in April 2015, with 90 affordable one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Two more buildings will open this year.

Despite the recent boom, teacher-specific housing is not a new idea: Santa Clara USD built 40 lower-cost housing units for staff over a decade ago, and added 30 more units in 2009.

Funding comes from different sources: Some districts get financial assistance from local governments, while others receive donations or issue bonds. But some teacher advocates say these housing options do not address the larger problem of low salaries and high living costs.

“It’s great that cities are getting involved with actually trying to find ways to give teachers an option to ease the burden of worrying about where and how they are going to live comfortably,” says Azalea Renfield, founder and CEO of the nonprofit United Educators Association for Affordable Housing. “But I don’t really see it as being sustainable or scalable. It’s just a temporary fix.”

Hertford County Public Schools, a rural North Carolina district of 3,000 students, made a dent in its retention problem after the teacher turnover rate hit 30 percent a decade ago. North Carolina ranks 47th in the nation for average teacher salary—at about $45,000 compared to a national average of nearly $57,000. Neighboring districts in North Carolina and districts in Virginia offer higher salaries, says Superintendent William White.

The district built an apartment complex with 24 units, each with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a kitchen and a dining area. All units were filled when it opened in 2007-08. The project was funded through donations and the state credit union. The district is now paying back a zero-interest loan.

“This is an opportunity for us to try to attract and retain teachers who might otherwise go elsewhere for a check that’s a little bit larger,” White says.

The building is within a 10-minute drive to all school buildings. Rent is $650 per month, and turnover has dropped significantly, White says.