by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
Last year, Durham County Schools announced that they planned to build an apartment complex with “below-market rents” for teachers.
Durham school officials believe that the apartments will help the district recruit and retain teachers. Unfortunately, we have only anecdotal evidence that it does. Liana Loewus of Education Week writes,
A growing number of districts are using housing incentives as a way to try to attract and retain K-12 educators—building teacher complexes with below-market rental rates, giving teachers living stipends, or offering discounts on home rentals and purchases.
And yet it turns out there’s little proof that offering housing incentives actually makes for good K-12 policy. Few researchers have looked at teacher-housing programs closely, and advocates for those policies have tended to rely on anecdotal evidence or tangential research about compensation to make their case.
Dare County makes it into Loewus’ report.
The Dare County school system in Nags Head, N.C., a beach-resort community, built two affordable housing complexes for teachers with 36 total units. The district says the initiative, which began in 2009 and was financed in part by interest-free loans from a local credit union, has helped recruit teachers for high-needs subjects such as foreign languages and special education.
“I can definitely tell you it is working. It’s not just a recruitment tool; it’s also a retention tool,” said Elisabeth Silverthorne, the executive director of the Dare Education Foundation, a nonprofit that works with the school system and administers the housing program.
The area has plenty of vacation homes but less year-round housing that’s affordable. The two-bedroom apartments cost $750 a month (about 20 percent below market rate), which enables teachers to live close by the schools where they teach.
While Dare’s teacher attrition rate has dropped and is one of the lowest in the state, it is not known whether the housing policy is the cause.
Regardless, it seems to me that the answer is to keep taxes low and impose fewer regulatory requirements on builders and renters so that everyone in the community, not just teachers, has access to less expensive housing. After all, lower paid school support staff need access to affordable housing too.