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Florida school districts consider creating affordable housing for employees

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Posted at 4:13 PM, Jul 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-22 23:18:45-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Florida’s affordable housing crisis is leaving school districts already struggling to hire staff with even more vacancies to fill.

There's now a growing new trend some school districts are considering to get teachers in the door: offering them a roof over their heads.

Liz Wayne is a Florida teacher with 11 years in a classroom. She even has a masters degree in education and leadership.

But this single mom of two is barely making ends meet.

"It's crazy how everything has changed," Wayne said. "It feels like taking a step back."

Wayne's rent just went up nearly $500.

"I cried to my mom. How am I going to do this?" Wayne said.

Wayne has added a few side hustles, delivering newspapers overnight, emceeing for a DJ, and her two teens even welcomed a roommate.

Wayne's struggle is exactly why some Florida school districts are eyeing a new way to get employees in the door and keep them by offering them a more affordable place to live.

"It really will allow us to be able to create a longer, stronger bench of employees," said Superintendent Addison Davis of the Hillsborough County School District.

In Hillsborough County where Wayne lives, rents are up over 20% since last year in some parts, according to a study by Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

School starts in less than a month, but the district is still short 700 teachers.

"That's a large number of students that do not have, may not have, a highly-qualified skilled teacher in front of them," Davis said.

Just one reason it's superintendent sees the district developed affordable housing as a game changer. Converting under-capacity schools into staff housing is just one option on the table.

"We’re working on that as a major solution. That's going to be an opportunity for our employees to have an opportunity for them to save tremendous amount of money, but openly being able to give them a perk," Davis said.

The trend, while slow, is starting to gain momentum across the sunshine state.

Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier, and Martin counties are among the short list of school districts also looking at housing in their futures.

Florida has a long history of problems when it comes to hiring and retaining school staff. And the numbers are only getting worse. According to the state’s teachers union, as of earlier this year there were 9,500 school vacancies, among the worst in recent history.

"I have my masters degree. Is there something else I can do and make more?" Wayne said.

For Wayne, district housing sounds interesting.

"That’s kind of cool, but how does it work and who does it work for?" Wayne said.

No answers yet. Call it a new chapter some districts are just beginning to explore. At this point, they can’t afford not to.

"I think this is a new trend for districts across the nation. We have got to start thinking differently than what we have done," Davis said.