Monday, September 28, 2015

Affordable housing created for teachers in rural impoverished area going to non-school employees

Apartments built to provide affordable housing to much-needed teachers in Webb, Miss.—one of the state's poorest and most remote communities—are being rented to non-school employees, Monique Harrison-Henderson reports for The Hechinger Report. With limited other housing opportunities in the area, officials at West Tallahatchie High School have struggled to fill teaching positions. (Harrison-Henderson photo: Duplext next to West Tallahatchie High School)

As part of the Mississippi Critical Teacher Shortage Act of 1998, state lawmakers allocated $200,000 for a duplex to be built on the edge of the school to give teachers a place to live and help them feel like they were part of the community, Harrison-Henderson writes. "When the apartments opened, top priority was to be given to teachers working in the district, and then to other licensed school district employees, according to the law. Other school district staff were to be given third-tier priority. After that, the apartments could be rented to anyone able to pay."

"Through the years, as teachers moved out, more non-teachers started to move in," Harrison-Henderson writes. "And if a tenant moved out during the school year, there often weren’t any teachers—who tend to relocate before school starts in early August—ready to move in. In the end, instead of being an exciting recruitment tool, the duplex has been filled in recent years by people with no direct ties to the school system."

"The offer of decent housing was not enough to overcome the isolation and challenges of the district, which in late September still had three openings, including two elementary posts and one high school position," Harrison-Henderson writes. "In recent years, the district hasn’t even tried to use it as a draw: Superintendent Darron Edwards "didn’t even know the location of the duplex until he researched it." He told her, “I wouldn’t really call it a tool at all, honestly. We don’t have a connection to it, and we don’t necessarily know when they have vacancies to fill.”

Rural McDowell County, West Virginia—one of the state's poorest communities—is in the midst of a similar experiment, Harrison-Henderson writes. "A group of nonprofits and companies spearheaded by the American Federation of Teachers recently purchased land to build a teacher village, hoping to provide the type of community that the West Tallahatchie district sought to create with its duplex and to bring in more teachers with the promise of good, inexpensive housing." (Read more)

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