Subsidized Housing May Help School Districts Retain Teachers

Jan 11, 2018
Originally published on January 11, 2018 5:57 am
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For many teachers, finding an affordable place to live near their schools, where they work, is really tough, and buying a house can be an even bigger challenge. But there's an effort in Indianapolis to change that. Jeanie Lindsay of Indiana Public Broadcasting reports on a new housing project for teachers.

JEANIE LINDSAY, BYLINE: Like many public school systems, the one in Indianapolis has a big turnover problem. Each year, some 400 teachers, a whopping 20 percent, either switch schools or quit. Sabbath McKiernan-Allen teaches second grade at Thomas Gregg elementary close to downtown. She says the high turnover rate affects students and learning in many ways.

SABBATH MCKIERNAN-ALLEN: You know, with teachers not coming back at winter break, we have a new teacher, and she has to start all over again, which then takes away from the learning time because you are going over procedures and establishing that rapport with a student.

LINDSAY: Elsie Owolo is with a group called Teach Plus. She says keeping teachers around is a complicated issue, but housing often plays a key role, and even in Indianapolis, it can be a problem.

ELSIE OWOLO: So in order for them to be able to afford something, our teachers have expressed that they've, No. 1, had to stay with parents, had to stay with roommates, or, you know, the ultimate result is living out in the suburbs and just having a longer commute.

LINDSAY: And that causes problems that can lead to turnover. So the school district and a collection of nonprofits are working on a new housing project called the Teachers' Village. It's here on the corner of 10th and North Rural Street, where a trio of boarded-up houses sit as cars drive past. This is a neighborhood ripe for renovation. A lot of properties here have sat vacant for years, and it's here where they broke ground for the Teachers' Village last fall.

JOHN FRANKLIN HAY: It's really two blocks, and all the houses...

LINDSAY: Community developer John Franklin Hay heads the group responsible for the renovation and construction of a hundred homes in the neighborhood. He's working on the blueprint for the Teachers' Village.

HAY: What we really want to do is to invite and encourage IPS and urban charter school teachers to consider living here, and becoming rooted here and becoming a community leader here.

LINDSAY: The idea is pretty straightforward. The group will renovate and build nearly two dozen homes in a two-block area. They'll be offered at a subsidized price, targeting teachers. Hay says the plan is to both revitalize the area and help the city's teachers with affordable housing. Cities working to provide affordable housing for teachers isn't a new idea. Newark has an apartment complex. Communities in North Carolina and California offer teachers subsidized rent. But this project offers an opportunity to buy a home. Not everyone agrees cities should target teachers for affordable housing. Matt Chingos, who's with the Urban Institute, says high housing costs affect everyone, and there should be other ways to help teachers find a place to live close to where they teach.

MATTHEW CHINGOS: At the same time, we also have to be concerned, if we can't attract teachers to an area because it's expensive, well, there's something we can do about that other than give them housing. It's, we can pay them more.

LINDSAY: But teacher pay raises rarely keep up with rising housing costs. Teacher Sabbath McKiernan-Allen wishes they did.

MCKIERNAN-ALLEN: I understand, why not pay teachers enough where they get to choose where they live? Why are you forcing us to live here if we want an affordable house? But for me, personally, I think it's awesome.

LINDSAY: This new village is intended as a first step. If it succeeds and more teachers decide to stay, there could be more villages like this one throughout Indianapolis. For NPR News, I'm Jeanie Lindsay.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER FAI'S "TO THE GREEN TOWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.