Leaders tackle a well-known problem

Published 2:58 pm Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By Staff
There is more than one way to skin a cat.
Leaders in Hertford County proved that. Living in a rural area, they were having problems recruiting new teachers. One stumbling block was housing. New teachers simply couldn’t afford the cost of buying homes and decent rentals were scarce.
County leaders’ solution was to build low-cost housing especially for educators.
The concept isn’t totally new. Decades ago, textile mills and coal mines provided housing for workers. The flip side was they often weren’t very nice and employees found themselves in debt with “the company store” and were trapped.
The Hertford County plan isn’t like that.
James L. Eure, senior vice president of the State Employees’ Credit Union, said Hertford school officials saw a story where Dare County was looking at the very same thing. Dare County, like Ocracoke in Hyde County, has high housing costs that make it nearly impossible for someone to live on an entry-level teacher’s salary.
The 24-unit project in Ahoskie didn’t happen overnight.
The school system donated the land, the town and county extended utility lines. Private business owners who see the value in good education donated some of the money. Last October, the credit union foundation awarded a $2.2 million, 15-year, interest-free loan and in February, construction started. The first tenants are to move in next week.
The credit union hopes to use the same model in other North Carolina counties, including Chowan.
The two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments cost $500 per month, with no deposit required. Pets are allowed for an additional $50 per month. Rental profits will pay off the $2.2 million loan and will later be used for other teacher incentives, such as free rent, according to The Pilot.
So far the experiment appears to be a success.
Destra Denney and her friend were attending a teaching fair at Eastern Michigan University when they saw the Hertford County Public Schools booth. It advertised new apartments for teachers.
Tiffany Cumbo, a returning middle school teacher, will move in with her husband next month.
Last year, Cumbo lived with family for the first half of the school year, then rented a house with her new husband. “This is a great stepping stone for those of us who eventually want to buy a house,” she said.
Home ownership is truly one of the best ways to retain good teachers. It makes them a vital part of the community and gives them a financial stake in the future of the district. Other school systems have tackled the problem from that angle.
In Mississippi, the state will provide a $6,000 down payment for new teachers moving into an area that has a teacher shortage. If the teacher stays for three years, the loan becomes a gift. The program is working.
In San Jose, Calif., the school system will provide $40,000 toward buying a house. That’s a nice benefit if one can afford it, but not all school systems can.
In Chattanooga, Tenn. there is a program in place that helps new teachers as well as those already in the school system. The plan provides $10,000 to new teachers and a chance for a low-interest second mortgage for those already in the system.
It’s refreshing to see government and private individuals tackling a serious issue with custom-made solutions.