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'We struggled for a year trying to find rent': Hendry County Schools plan low-cost housing for teachers

The Hendry School District plans to transform unused district land into low-cost apartments for teachers, addressing the housing struggles faced by Clewiston Middle and other local schools
Posted at 7:01 PM, May 17, 2024

CLEWISTON, Fla. — The Hendry County School District says teachers at Clewiston Middle and other schools are struggling to find housing they can afford.

Fox 4’s Hendry County Community Correspondent, Austin Schargorodski, works in the area every day, so the people there know him, and the district superintendent told him about their plan to build affordable apartments that are just for teachers.

Right outside of Downtown Clewiston, where you see a tree-filled lot now, could someday be something much more for Clewiston Middle School algebra teacher, Estefania Leon.

Aerial view of the tree-filled lot right outside Downtown Clewiston that could be the future home of affordable apartments for teachers.
Aerial view of the tree-filled lot right outside Downtown Clewiston that could be the future home of affordable apartments for teachers.

Leon said she and her husband struck out when house hunting in Hendry County.

“We struggled for a year trying to find rent, and if it wasn’t rent, there are no houses to buy out here,” said Leon.

Clewiston Middle School algebra teacher, Estefania Leon, and her husband, Gustavo Guerra.
Clewiston Middle School algebra teacher, Estefania Leon, and her husband, Gustavo Guerra.

Eventually, Leon said they found an apartment nearby, but it’s expensive for what they get. Principal Tina Kelley says she’s lost teachers because of those high rent prices.

“It’s not unusual for me to interview with someone, actually hire them, then once they have an opportunity to research housing in the area they end up calling me back saying, ‘Ms. Kelley, I’m so sorry but I’m not going to be able to take the position because I can’t find anywhere to live,'” said Kelley.

Principal of Clewiston Middle School, Tina Kelley.
Principal of Clewiston Middle School, Tina Kelley.

That’s why Hendry Schools Superintendent Michael Swindle wants to use land the district owns— but doesn’t use— to build low-cost apartments only teachers could rent.

“Right now, the average rent here is thirteen to fifteen hundred dollars a month, and when you do the backward engineering on that there’s not a lot of profit leftover in a teacher salary. So, if we can cut that in half or even significantly down, that would make up for some of the salary we can’t give them,” said Swindle.

Superintendent of Hendry County Schools, Michael Swindle.
Superintendent of Hendry County Schools, Michael Swindle.

Swindle said the District wants to build one complex in Clewiston and another in LaBelle, and he said he wants to do it at no cost to the county.

“We’re looking for a builder to come in and build what we need pretty much at cost— then we could trade them the other properties so they could build single-family homes or other apartments. Then, they could charge market rates to other people in Hendry County and that would be their profit center,” Swindle explained.

Swindle said the District plans to start looking for a builder this month.