Volusia County Schools weighs providing affordable housing for teachers

Volusia County School leaders are exploring options to help recruit and retain teachers. One idea involves helping them find an affordable place to live in the community. To do that, the school board is considering continued work with the local agency Homes Bring Hope.  

The organization helps build affordable housing options in low-income communities - specifically the 32114 zip code. Homes are sold to buyers based on what they qualify for and founders say the buyer often pays less for their new mortgage than their previous rent. 

Founder Forough Hosseini hopes the latest development project will be for county teachers and staff. 

"This is for your entry level teachers who can't afford more expensive housing," said Forough Hosseini, Founder of Homes Bring Hope, "We believe it makes their life more stable. When their lives are more stable, they are better employees for you." 

The district worked with the organization back in 2019 to help place employees in homes, but this is the first time the district is considering building on its own property.

At last week's board workshop meeting, both school leaders and Hosseini discussed using the roughly 4 lots off George W. Engram Blvd and Fulton Street to build future homes. District leaders say it's already zoned for residential use and the land isn't being used. 

Nothing is set in stone, but school leaders say it's a recruitment option worth considering. 

"This is an area that has a concentration of some higher need schools. For those, they are a little harder to staff. Hope this is an incentive for people to invest in the community," said Dr. Rachel Hazel, Volusia County Schools. 

But some teachers who work in the 32114 zip code believe the district is missing the point. 

"All the attention we're putting into affordable housing for teacher, we should be putting into teacher pay." 

Teacher Sean Hyacinth says his rent is about $1,300 a month – and even this is a stretch. Hyacinth says before moving into his condo - which is being rented to him by a teacher - he had a roommate and also worked as a manager at McDonald's to make ends meet. 

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, since 2017 - the average American home price has risen 40%. But, the average starting teacher salaries have risen 15%. 

Hyacinth says he's making starting teacher pay which is around $48,000 per year. 

"We have housing. We're not worried about finding housing. We're worried about our bills and housing is one of those bill," said Hyacinth. 

Volusia United Educators, the local teachers' union, released a statement about ongoing discussions saying:

"We are grateful for those in the Volusia County community who have recognized the need for affordable housing and who are able to make the dream of owning a home a reality.  However, the long-term cure to solve the issue of the lack of affordable housing must be looked at from a different perspective.  If degreed professionals are unable to afford homes, how does that impact the community at large?  Additionally, professional educators rank 48th in the nation for average teacher salaries.  The system needs to be overhauled and priorities adjusted.  If we want to retain high quality professional educators in our schools, we must provide the professional pay they deserve. Living local should not be a goal, it should be the standard."

District leaders say both conversations are important moving forward. 

"As a schools system and as we're talking to our legislatures we really want to make sure we're provided the funding needed to compensate all employees in a fair manner. Also want to be able to be that full service," said Dr. Hazel. 

The district says next steps involve drafting a contract with Homes Bring Hope...and they expect it to go before the board again within the next few meetings.