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Housing Project Helps Solve Rural Teacher Recruitment, Retention Problem

Four years ago, Saluda, S.C., was like many rural communities; it didn't have affordable housing for its young teachers.

That changed when two state agencies and a local resident came together to build lofts specifically for teachers. They used $150,000 in state money and a private match of $150,000 to convert the second-floor of a building into six apartments that a first-year teacher making $32,000 could afford.

It's one example of what groups nationwide are doing to tackle the teacher housing problem. Rural areas often lack places for its teachers to live, and it's one of the reasons they struggle with teacher recruitment and retention. Some community's leaders have said that addressing this issue is key to helping schools.

Money for the projects usually doesn't come from school districts' operating budgets. In North Carolina, one credit union's foundation gave four districts zero-interest loans to build teacher apartments, and the loans were repaid with teachers' rent. And in Alaska, the state has helped fund more than 300 housing units worth more than $90 million.

I visited Saluda recently and wrote about its teacher lofts and the rural teacher housing issue for The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. The project was supposed to be a model for the rest of the state, but that never happened (chalk it up to a lack of effort from local leaders, a new state superintendent with different priorities, and an economy that soured). The story was part of the newspaper's Forgotten South Carolina coverage, which is a multi-part series examining disparities in health, education and economics in the state's rural counties compared to its more populated regions.

It's important to note that creating housing for teachers doesn't solve all of the challenges some say come with living in a rural area. Although teachers liked living so close to their schools, some said they couldn't see themselves settling down in the community.

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