Special Report
Recruitment & Retention

From Teacher Villages to Tiny Homes: Housing Benefits for Educators

By Kate Stoltzfus — January 23, 2018 3 min read
Hertford Pointe, located in Hertford County, N.C., provides teachers with housing for as little as $650 a month.

Finding affordable housing can be a challenge on the average teacher salary, studies have shown. That situation causes many teachers to leave the classroom or to seek out less-expensive districts in which to live and work. In an attempt to address the problem, many districts are offering housing incentives as a way to recruit and keep teachers—whether that means giving discounts or putting up four walls themselves.

Districts take construction into their own hands: A growing number of districts are repurposing old school buildings or constructing new complexes for subsidized teacher-housing units, many of which are on district property or in close proximity to schools. One of the longest-running of these initiatives is in California’s Santa Clara Unified school district, where teachers are on a waiting list to get into one of the 70 townhouse units at Casa Del Maestro. The project began about 15 years ago, and has continued to expand its offerings, as a below-market option for new employees for up to seven years. In North Carolina, where educators have some of the lowest teaching salaries in the country, the State Employees’ Credit Union has partnered with several school districts to finance housing. The first project was in Hertford County, where educators and district employees have had the option to rent apartments next to the high school since 2007, which now cost as little as $650 a month.

San Francisco—spurred on by a math teacher who was homeless—pledged last year to set aside $44 million for construction of up to 150 affordable rentals on an old school site.

Tiny houses could be the right fit: The tiny-house movement has been gaining ground in recent years, as smaller houses—up to about 400 square feet and often movable—are known for being more cost-efficient, eco-friendly, and affordable. The Vail Unified school district in Arizona is planning to build up to 24 tiny (and “luxury,” according to the associate superintendent) homes for its teachers on desert land. In a city where there are no apartment complexes and the median house price is about $260,000, district leaders aim to have several that are move-in ready by the next school year. In the Eagle County district in Colorado, leaders also proposed future tiny homes last year, among several options under consideration for their teachers.

A house design by LuxTiny, a custom tiny home builder in Lakeside, Ariz., is one of several models that the Vail Unified school district is considering.
A house design by LuxTiny, a custom tiny home builder in Lakeside, Ariz., is one of several models that the Vail Unified school district is considering.

Discounts on rentals and purchases widen options: Some districts are boosting visibility for discounted options or direct monetary incentives available in their communities. As of 2017, an expanded citywide program in Detroit offers full-time employees and contractors of regular public, private, and charter schools a 50 percent discount on houses for sale through a local housing-auction program.

Real-estate efforts geared specifically toward teachers also assist in Nashville, where the city launched the Nashville Teacher Housing website to help teachers find affordable third-party rentals and homes on the market.

Teachers Village is a mixed-use community that stretches for five blocks in downtown Newark, N.J. It includes charter schools, a day-care facility, and tutors.

And for West Coast teachers who can’t afford to buy homes, a San Francisco-based startup called Landed raises money to help finance down payments so educators can live close to where they work. The startup, which has partnered with 35 school districts and counting in Northern California, Los Angeles, and Denver, is expanding thanks to financial backers such as the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

‘Teachers’ villages’ try to offer more than just living: Community spaces, shopping, and dining are just a few of the incentives some districts are trying to provide with help from developers. In Newark, N.J., a teachers’ village erected by the developer RBH Group includes three charter schools, a day-care center, more than 200 rental units geared toward regular public and charter school teachers, and such extras as spare classrooms, a gym, and retail. The group has similar future projects underway in Hartford, Conn., and in Chicago, where an empty school building could house a small grocery and offer demand-based classes for tenants in addition to living quarters. In Philadelphia, Oxford Mills—an apartment complex targeting teachers—includes a copy center and a coffee shop.

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