The school board will need the county’s help to move forward with plans for teacher housing.
On, Thursday, Dec. 14, the school board agreed to ask the county to take ownership of a 5.6-acre site near Lowe’s Grove Middle School that has been eyed by nonprofit developer CASA for 24 units of affordable teacher housing.
Because the school board cannot convey the property to CASA through private sale or lease, it will first need to turn the property over to the county, which under state law has authority to do so if the nonprofit is carrying out a public purpose.
DPS officials see teacher housing as a valuable tool in its effort to attract and retain teachers. Early career teachers in Durham contend they have a particularly difficult time finding affordable apartments to rent.
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“We believe affordable teacher housing is a public purpose because the housing would assist the board in recruiting and retaining teachers who serve the students and residents of the county, and the project would further the success of the school system, which would also assist the county in its goals of recruiting business to the county,” DPS Chief Operating Officer Aaron Beaulieu wrote in a letter to County Manager Wendell Davis.
The board will make a presentation on the proposal to during to County Commissioners on Jan. 2.
The school board wants the county take ownership of the property with a deed restriction in place that would only allow it to be used for teacher housing. With such a restriction, the property would revert to the school district if the county attempted to use it for any other purpose.
DPS also wants the current Development Agreement between the county, school board and the State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU), which has a branch near the site, to be amended to allow the property to be used for teacher housing. When the agreement was adopted in 2010, plans called for the property to be used for a small elementary school for about 300 students.
School officials said it’s unlikely the district will ever need the site for a new school, even as it wrestles with space issues related to the state’s K-3 class-size mandate.
“I feel able to sit before you and say that this is really not an ideal tract for a future school site that would be cost effective to DPS with it being that small of a school and really not dealing with class-size,” Beaulieu told the school board its Dec. 14 worksession.
The proposed teacher housing site is near the South Regional Library Branch and the old Lowe’s Grove School, which is in great disrepair. Early plans called for DPS to turn over three acres it owns at the site. The three acres was valued at a little more than $500,000. With additional acreage, the value of the land donated would likely increase $200,000 to $300,000 or more.
“The old Lowe’s Grove School sits there in a fairly poor state, and that piece will have to be addressed at some point in the future,” Beaulieu said.
Debbie White, the financial officer for CASA, said in an interview before a school board worksession, that the nonprofit needs a commitment from Durham for the land so that it can prepare to go through the State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation’s application process to receive an interest free-loan for the project.
“We hope to file the application this spring,” White said.
The SECU Foundation promotes local and community development by primarily funding projects in the areas of housing, education, healthcare and human services. It has provide interest-free loans to enable teacher housing to be built in Buncombe, Dare, Hoke and Hertford counties.
CASA is a developer and residential property manager that specializes in properties for special purposes such as those built for teachers and veterans among other groups, to build the housing development.
Plans initially call for the construction of 24 one-bedroom and two-bedroom affordable apartments on the proposed site. Assuming double occupancy in the two-bedroom units, the complex could house up to 41 teachers.
CASA could build up to 48 more apartments in subsequent phases of the project, and once completed, the project could provide 72 apartments for more than 100 teachers.
“If it was fully built out and you had two teachers in some of those two-bedrooms, you could potentially have 100 teachers at that site,” said Melissa Michaud, a school board attorney.