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Districts Look to Convert Vacant Schools Into Teacher Housing

Across the country—due in part to dwindling public school enrollment in big cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit—hundreds of vacant schools sit on districts' balance sheets. While it is not uncommon for districts to sell those properties to real estate developers—frequently well below initial projections, a 2013 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found—St. Louis is looking to draw added benefits from the vacant schools they own: The district is looking to convert some into affordable housing for teachers.

Neither converting old schoolhouses into residencies or building subsidized housing for teachers are particularly novel ideas—districts across the country have been engaged in both for decades. But by combining the two ideas, St. Louis hopes to tackle two problems at once—turning these liabilities into assets and also providing a new perk to their employees.

The district currently only has plans to convert one former campus into teacher housing—Wilkinson School, a 1920s red brick schoolhouse in a relatively affluent neighborhood, where the city meets the more prosperous surrounding suburbs the district competes for teachers with. But developers say they hope the project can serve as a model.

"We'd love to see this as a pilot that could be replicated in not only other [St. Louis Public Schools] buildings, but maybe other cities and states that are struggling to retain quality teachers," said Donna Smith, one of the developers, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A similar project is underway in Milwaukee, where the district hopes the former school could provide new teachers with not only housing, but also support and additional resources, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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