Seattle — The Bellevue, Wash., school district could become the first in the state to provide low-cost housing in an effort to attract quality teachers.
Administrators hope to develop district-owned land with apartments, condominiums and houses that teachers could rent or buy.
Nationwide, only a few school districts are looking into housing options for teachers: San Francisco plans to build housing; New York offers furnished apartments to new hires for up to three months; and a Raleigh, N.C., district offers discounted moving fees and helps teachers find apartments.
A handful of districts in Washington state have helped staff find low-interest housing loans, but none has built its own affordable housing. The idea is only in the discussion stage, but Bellevue Supt. Mike Riley appears optimistic about the possibility of building teacher housing on at least three 10-acre parcels. He's frustrated, though, at the lengths to which the district must go to attract and retain teachers. Last session, state legislators struck down proposals that would have provided some teachers with housing allowances.
"I have to ask, why do districts have to do this when we are supposed to be educators? Why isn't the state taking care of this?" he said.
The district already owns land that was purchased for future schools, which now likely won't be built because of a slowdown in enrollment.
A symbolic effort
Riley said he doesn't anticipate spending district money on the plan. Rather, developers would build the complexes and reap the profits when they sold. He also knows this isn't the solution to the district's teacher shortage, given that there are 900 teachers in the district.
"Part of it is symbolic," he said. "This is one more component of what we're trying to do."
Bellevue Education Assn. President Debby Nissen said she appreciates the district's effort but doesn't think the idea is a long-term solution.
"The main thing is a place like Bellevue can't pay them a living wage and that's ridiculous," she said.
"We should have had the option of a housing allowance but the Legislature let it go."
Salaries don't keep up
School board member Judy Bushnell said affordable housing is imperative to attract and retain teachers, whose salaries aren't enough to afford most homes in Bellevue.
A first-year teacher in the state makes, on average, $26,487; a 10th-year teacher with a master's degree averages $40,213.
Last month, the median price of Eastside houses and condominiums stood at a record $320,000, a 6.68 percent increase over the median price of $299,950 in July 2000, according to the Northwest Multiple Listing Service.
If everything goes as hoped, Riley said, Bellevue teachers could purchase the condos or homes in two years. He said he prefers to build more small houses about 1,200 square feet each and condos than apartments to allow teachers to buy homes, which boosts the probability they'll stay in the district.
"My job is to get the best staff possible," he said. "And, as educators, we're going to be in big trouble if we don't address the housing issue."