PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — We've talked a lot about the housing crisis in Palm Beach County and how difficult it is for working class families to make rent or mortgage payments.
Now one school board member wants to see the School District of Palm Beach County get more involved as the largest employer in the county.
The school district has given pay raises to employees across the board this year, but for many, it is still not enough to make ends meet.
School board member Erica Whitfield wants the district to take a larger role in the issue of affordable housing, and she has some ideas of how to do that.
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"Even though Palm Beach County has done a good job of raising beginning salaries for new teachers, the housing crisis has still made it difficult for young educators to find adequate housing," said Scott Houchins, a longtime teacher at Palm Beach Central High School.
Houchins knows the struggle his colleagues face when it comes to affording a place to live.
"We do need to find a way, or at least explore new ways, to make housing affordable for educators," Houchins said.
The housing crisis is top of mind for Whitfield.
"A lot of times, they are working three jobs just to survive and are unable to find rent in a place where you feel safe," Whitfield said.
As the county's largest employer with some of the lowest paid workers, Whitfield wants to see the School District of Palm Beach County have a bigger role in the conversation.
"We have a couple of pieces of property," Whitfield said. "If we could use those as places to build affordable housing, specifically if they could be places our teachers could live or other employees who work for us."
One of those properties is a vacant building and the other is a piece of land.
"It is a critical element of our workforce and there is a desperate need for housing," said Jack Weir, the board chairman of the Housing Leadership Council of Palm Beach County.
Weir said the $200 million housing bond Palm Beach County voters just approved in the November election will provide some relief, with homes and rental units hopefully available in about a year.
"The supply and demand are out of balance," Weir said. "If this program can provide the 20,000 units it’s designed to — the overall housing plan — that will have a significant impact on the supply and demand."
School district employee Angela Santacruz hopes the conversation can lead to action.
"It's amazing that this topic is being brought up for discussion," Santacruz said. "I think it’s been a long time coming."
Whitfield hopes that with enough support, the Palm Beach County School Board will schedule a workshop on the topic to hash out what can be done.