A weekend interview with ...
... Karen Miller, director of PDC Affordable Housing. Miller, who has a doctorate in housing, has been a Faculty member of major universities including Miami of Ohio, Western Carolina University, Clemson University and the University of Florida. One of her current projects is to develop a grant that would bring "workforce housing" to the Pasco County school district. She talked with reporter Jeff Solochek about the initiative.
Why has it become such a situation where we need affordable housing for teachers and other education professionals.
If you look at the cost of housing in the Tampa Bay area from 2000 to 2006, the cost of a house doubled. Now, did a teacher's salary double?
I don't think so.
I don't know what the exact statistics are, but we know it didn't double and it certainly didn't go up 25 percent. ... So that's what happened to housing. Now we're looking at housing that's decreasing in value. It's only gone down 9 percent. So a teacher could afford a house in 2000, but even a 9 percent drop in housing doesn't make it very affordable for someone making $35,000 a year. (Note: The staring salary for a Pasco teacher with a bachelor's degree and no previous experience is $35,300.)
So therefore we need to have something that they can afford. But when you say affordable housing, it conjures up Section 8. How do you deal with that?
Use the word workforce. Because there are two different terms that are being used in the state of Florida. Affordable housing has come to mean people who make 80 percent and below an area's mean income. Workforce means people who make between 80 and 140 percent an area's mean income.
Once you get that out of the way, you can maybe get teachers to not feel like they're being corralled.
Well, they're really not. It's only offered as an option if they would like. And the quality of these houses compared to whatever else they find on the market at that price, they're going to feel privileged to live in them. In fact, my group is working with a group in Tampa that is working on one of these projects. And they are going to be coming to market maybe mid-summer ... and they're going to hold a lottery so that 57 lucky people get the opportunity to buy one of these. And that's probably what we're going to have to do in Pasco County.
How does this work exactly? You apply for a grant and then what?
And then we wait and wring our hands. This grant has to have matching money from the county. And the land is the surplus land to the School Board. They can't use it for a school. And to sell it off isn't going to give them much benefit. But by putting it in a land trust so that it's available for their teachers, they can have an affordability mechanism for the houses. So when the first teacher sells it, it should still be affordable for the next teacher. And by affordable, I mean price-wise, not their income range. So what we're trying to do is provide long-term affordability by keeping the land price kind of stable.
And the homes are town homes?
There's going to be at least two pieces of property in this project that we're going to propose to the state. And the one on the School Board's property are town homes. But I think we're going to have another donation of property that will be available for teachers, and they will be single-family standalone houses. ...
So they will actually own the houses? Or will the school district own the houses?
The teacher owns the house. The school district owns the land. There's a mechanism called a community land trust. ...
Would it be only for teachers and school district employees because it's on school district property?
No, not necessarily. The teachers because, they've got a huge problem recruiting and retaining teachers, they may well let it to teachers first. But any unoccupied will go to probably police and firemen if they don't get enough takers.
And the housing goes by lottery?
No, no. That's probably what we'll have to do. The school system will decide how they're going to do it....
This is all because of the state grant, CWHIP?
The problem is recruiting and retaining teachers. If you look at the St. Petersburg Times two weeks ago, the Sunday edition in the Working section, 80 percent of the HR people said ... they thought the cost of housing was their No. 1 issue in making a decision. It wasn't salary. It was, Can I afford a house once I move here. (See the story here.) It's even worse with teachers, because the salaries are lower, obviously. So to recruit teachers in a county that's growing as fast as Pasco, they can't take enough natives and turn them into teachers quick enough to fill their own schools. ... So they have to recruit from outside and, of course, they have to have a place to live. The best way to tie someone to a community, now we're talking retention, is for them to have home ownership and to feel a part of their community. ... So, our hope is in the recruiting of employees they'll have well priced housing that teachers will like. We'll do a survey with the School Board to find out what amenities teachers want in a house, that sort of thing.
Let's say you have a teacher coming in and she or he is married to someone who has a very large salary and another job, and they seem to want one of these houses for the convenience to the school.
If their household income is over 140 percent of the area mean income, they don't qualify. ... This program is for what we call workforce housing, and workforce housing by definition through county and state mandates is up to 140 percent of AMI. That's still probably not two teachers' salaries in Pasco County, to keep it in perspective. (Note: The AMI for Pasco County is $53,900.) ...
The application goes in by Jan. 31 and then you find out shortly afterward?
No. We don't find out until the end of June. And that's what is very important. Please help people understand what we're trying to do is come up with an innovative capital program to address the issue of teacher recruitment and retention. And even if we're fortunate enough to win - and there will be heavy competition because who's not going to come out of the woodwork for $5-million? Even if we are fortunate enough to win in June, that just drops the green flag on development. If you track how long it takes to get building permits and site work done and what has to go through Swiftmud and all this stuff, we would feel very pleased if we got this in the ground in 18 months, and that's 18 months from when we would win it. So don't let people think they're going to drive by the site and see houses next week.
Old school, new home for teachers?, St. Petersburg Times, July 18, 2007; School district looks at housing as teacher draw, St. Petersburg Times, Nov. 7, 2007; School districts devising new ways to offer teachers affordable housing, Education Week, Aug. 9, 2006