The housing package would be separate from the main bond package the district is considering and would provide Austin ISD funds to construct housing exclusively for teachers.
“We are trying to keep teachers in the city of Austin so they are living in the communities they are serving because that is really reflected in the classroom experience,” Austin ISD Director of Real Estate Jeremy Striffler told Community Impact Newspaper.
Striffler said the $50 million would be leveraged to raise up to $325 million of additional funding, meaning the district would use that $50 million as a sort of downpayment for a project that could be financed. That debt would not be passed on to taxpayers, but instead covered by income from the properties.
The funds could create 500-1,000 housing units, according to Striffler. The number of units would depend on what type of housing—rental or ownership and apartments, townhomes or single family homes or a combination of different types—the district chose to build. Austin ISD currently has around 5,600 teachers.
Striffler and other district staff are not proposing any specific uses of the funds at this time. If AISD’s board of trustees choose to put the bond on the ballot, the district would then begin meeting with teachers to determine what they would like to see.
The board is scheduled to vote on which of the two main bond packages it would like to add to the ballot and if the housing bond should be included on Aug. 9.
Striffler said the proposed bond comes at a unique time for the district. Austin ISD is facing 20% staff turnover. While district leadership has expressed interest in increasing wages to match Austin’s rapidly increasing cost of living, AISD faces a tight budget due to high recapture costs—money that the district has to send back to the state for property poor school districts.
“The lack of ability to attract and retain qualified teachers impacts students' learning,” Striffler said. “Ultimately our mission here is to serve our students.”
School districts in Texas were only given the ability to go out for teacher housing bonds in the last Legislative session. Two Texas school districts, Fort Stockton ISD and Buena Vista ISD, passed housing bonds in May. Striffler said districts in other states, including several in California have had success with teacher housing bonds.
Striffler said the teacher housing could act as a retention and recruiting tool. He also said reducing staff turnover could reduce the estimated $15 million it costs the district to address teacher turnover.
The housing bond would follow a handful of forays into affordable housing for the district. The first, selling the former Baker School in Hyde Park to developers who intended to build affordable housing in 2017. That affording housing never materialized.
The district also partnered with Habitat for Humanity earlier this year on a project to construct 30 homes. However, Striffler said the properties have over 1,200 inquiries, meaning many teachers are competing with community members and other teachers for limited spots.
Striffler said under the new plans—as well as a plan the district will roll out later this year to build housing on some closed campuses—the district would remain in control of the properties.
At the meeting, 50% of participants indicated they would support the housing bond, however some participants were unable to respond to the poll.
During the meeting, several teachers and community members expressed concerns about the housing bond.
Eric Ramos, a teacher at Martin Middle School said he understands the need for affordable housing as his rent just increased significantly, but he feels the district has not provided enough information or transparency around the housing bond for him to feel comfortable supporting the measure.
Candance Hunter, a parent, former educator and candidate for AISD trustee place one said she is also concerned about the proposal.
“It comes down to trust,” Hunter said.
She said she would like to see more information about teacher housing bonds in other places as well as the district partnering with area nonprofits on the project.
The housing bond would cost a homeowner with a $450,000 home an extra $1 a year, Striffler said.