TAMPA, Fla. — “I think this is a new trend for districts across the nation. We have to start thinking differently than what we have done,” Hillsborough County Superintendent Davis said.
Some Florida school districts are considering the idea of developing their own affordable housing projects to help attract more teachers and support staff.
The creative new approach is the result of the state’s worsening school staff shortage. According to the state teachers union, as of January, there were more than 9,500 vacancies across public schools in Florida. More than 4,300 of those vacancies were teacher's positions, up from years prior.
In Hillsborough County, the state’s third-largest school district, the district is 700 teachers short, with less than one month before the start of the new school year.
Perks, including higher pay and bonuses, aren’t doing enough to attract people into the field. With Florida’s housing and rent costs among the highest in the nation, Hillsborough County’s school superintendent Addison Davis believes districts need to start thinking of how to offer housing as another school incentive.
He and his team are in the early stages of discussing a long-range plan to develop affordable housing for district staff members.
“It will allow us to be able to create a longer, stronger bench of employees,” he said recently. Though details have yet to be ironed out, Davis said all options are on the table, including repurposing under-utilized schools and converting them into affordable housing units for the staff.
“That's going to be an opportunity for our employees to save a tremendous amount of money, but also be able to give them a perk," he said. “We’ve got to find proactive solutions that are attractors,” Davis added.
The trend is growing in Florida.
Miami-Dade County schools recently announced a partnership with its local county to develop housing for school district staff. Districts in Broward, Martin, and Collier counties are also beginning to discuss affordable housing as part of its future plans too.
“That sounds kind cool, but how does it work, and who does it work for,” asked Liz Wayne, a teacher in Hillsborough County with 11 years of experience in the classroom.
Wayne’s rent just increased by nearly $500, leaving the single mom of two picking up side hustles and even a roommate. Though more affordable housing would help, she’s not convinced district-developed housing could work for her and her teenage daughters.
“Would it be for families or just single people? Will it be near my school in a good neighborhood for my kids? I have a lot of questions,” she said.
Though her district doesn’t have all the answers, yet they are part of a growing list of school districts exploring because, at this point, they can’t afford not to.