June 6, 2011

Affordable teacher housing comes to Hatteras in time for upcoming school year

BY JORDAN TOMBERLIN




Anyone who has driven down the Buxton Back Road recently has probably noticed the rather large construction project that is underway by the Cape Hatteras Secondary School soccer field. 

It’s not another McMansion or some sort of shopping center. It’s a housing complex that, when completed sometime in late July or early August, will  provide reasonably priced housing for Hatteras Island schoolteachers.

According to Trip Hobbs, the Personnel Director for Dare County Schools, the primary goal of the project—which has been in the works for nearly three years— “is to recruit, train, and retain high-quality teachers” for Hatteras Island’s two schools, Cape Hatteras Elementary and Cape Hatteras Secondary School of Coastal Studies.

Annually, Hatteras schools have the highest turnover rate in the county, a fact that Hobbs attributes to its remote location, as well as the high cost and low availability of housing.  
Put bluntly, Hatteras Island is a financial “perfect storm” for teachers—particularly those who are just starting out or who are living on a single income. 
 
Teachers often have significant student loan debt, and then you factor in low salaries. In 2009-2010, North Carolina ranked 36th in the nation, with an average salary of $46,850 and starting pay at around $30,000. Add into the equation the higher cost of living on the island, and you get an economic environment that makes it difficult to attract new teachers and retain experienced educators. 

And that’s without even taking into consideration the relatively low availability of year-round residences or the lack of year-round, full-time jobs for non-teacher spouses or family members. 

“That’s what drove this project,” Hobbs said.

In the fall of 2007, the school system heard about a state-wide initiative that the State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation (SECUF) had started, which was aimed at funding the construction of affordable housing for teachers.

“We immediately filled out the paperwork and put ourselves in position [to receive funding],” Hobbs said. 

Their quick actions paid off, and construction soon began on Run Hill Ridge, a 24-unit complex in Kill Devil Hills. The $2.25 million project, undertaken and completed in partnership with the Dare Education Foundation, was funded entirely by interest-free loans from SECUF, and the complex opened to Dare County teachers in August of 2008.

With the success of that program—33 per cent of newly-hired teachers elected to live there in 2008, and 36 school employees currently reside at Run Hill Ridge—the Board of Education turned their attention to southward, seeking to offer the same opportunity to Dare County educators living south of the Bonner Bridge.

Framing on the yet-to-be-named housing complex in Buxton began about three weeks ago, and construction on the $1.4 million project is currently moving slightly ahead of schedule, with completion slated for around Aug. 1—just in time for the 2011-2012 school year.

The 12-unit complex will contain units identical to those constructed in Kill Devil Hills.  The 1,200 square-foot units will have two bedrooms, each with a full bath, as well as spacious closets, a full kitchen, and an open living/dining area. In addition, they will be fully furnished with appliances—including a full-size washer and dryer.

Rent will be set at $750 per month and collected directly through payroll deductions. The units can house up to two adults and two children, and for an additional, fully-refundable deposit of $350, residents will be permitted to have pets.

These housing complexes are not only helping to attract and maintain teachers, they will eventually help pump money back into the schools themselves.

The mortgage on the properties is held by the Dare Education Foundation, a local organization dedicated to promoting excellence in Dare County Schools through partnership with the community, so, once the interest-free loans have been paid off, the rental income from Run Hill Ridge and the Hatteras project will end up benefiting Dare County students and teachers in some way. 

Hobbs said he is currently accepting applications for residency in the Hatteras complex.  Though teachers will be given top priority, any full-time school employee is eligible to apply.  There will be a standard, 12-month lease, and spouses, partners, family members, or other adults are welcome to room with eligible school employees, but they will have to fill out a separate application and will be subject to a basic background check prior to approval.(School employees will already have had a background check.)

“I can’t say enough good things about it,” said Jean Taylor, the Secondary School principal, about the housing project.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity, especially for beginning teachers,” she stated, adding that she believed that being able to offer affordable housing to Hatteras Island teachers will absolutely help the schools attract and retain highly-qualified teachers.

“I wish they’d had it when I moved down here,” she laughed. “That’s definitely what I would have done!”


FOR MORE INFORMATION

For information on the Dare Education Foundation, visit: www.dareeducationfoundation.org

For housing and application information, contact Trip Hobbs:  Trip Hobbs, Personnel Director, Dare County Schools, 252-480-8888, ext.1919 or e-mail him at [email protected]



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