Teacher apartments discussed

Published 10:40 am Monday, August 28, 2017

WINDSOR – If you build it, they will come.

The Bertie County Board of Education has indicated that one of the challenges to hiring teachers is the lack of available residential apartments or townhouses in the county. Now, a plan is on the drawing board to address that issue.

On Tuesday, Aug. 30, the Town of Windsor will host a community meeting and public forum to assist the Bertie County Board of Commissioners with its development of residential housing for local teachers. The public is invited to this forum, slated for a 6 p.m. start at the Windsor Community Building, located on Queen Street.

The county has identified three potential sites, two owned by the county and one owned by the Town of Windsor, which may be considered for this residential housing initiative.

Currently, the county is working to secure a zero interest-financing package from the State Employees Credit Union Foundation to build this proposed residential facility.

Dr. Steven Hill, Superintendent of Bertie County Schools, will be present at the form to answer questions and share his support for this plan.

The plan for a residential apartment complex for teachers dates back to the Board of Education’s FY 2014-2015 budget request. Among the two major capital projects in a plan submitted by Elaine White, then the school system’s superintendent, was the need for high quality apartment rental units for new teachers and young professionals. She reported that in the most recent hiring cycle, only two of 17 newly hired teachers were able to find suitable living quarters in Bertie County. Furthermore, she expressed the risk of losing to teachers to surrounding school systems if the teacher is already living in Williamston, Ahoskie or Greenville.

The Bertie Board of Commissioners has maintained the housing initiative for teachers as a top priority since then, and has expanded the effort to include local government professionals such as law enforcement, EMTs and state employees.

Early in the planning stages, Bertie Commissioner Ron Wesson contacted the Hertford County School Foundation to learn about its 24-unit apartment complex for teachers. Wesson learned that complex, which opened in the fall of 2007 near Bearfield Primary School and Hertford County High School in Ahoskie, was financed through the State Employees Credit Union, and indicated that funding is available for other similar projects.

The Board of Commissioners has had multiple work sessions to learn about this housing initiative concept and has continued to evaluate its viability for nearly two years.

Both governing bodies of the county and the Town of Windsor have asked tough questions about the fiscal viability of this project, and are committed to exercising all appropriate due diligence as the project discussions continue. No decisions on site selection have been determined and there is a strong desire to seek public input and comments on this venture. If the project is to go forward, a site will need to be identified in the application for financing.

County and Windsor officials have been in ongoing discussions with the State Employees Credit Union regarding preparation of a loan application for its Foundation and the available of 15-year zero interest financing. It is envisioned that the application and the note for this financing will be held in the name of the Windsor Township Development Corporation. Administration of this project and operation of the apartments will likely be coordinated between the Windsor Township Development Corporation and the county.

Dr. Hill recently joined the project team and is one of the strongest advocates for developing high quality residential units for teachers recruited to Bertie County. He has partnered with the local Council of Government, the Mid-East Commission, to prepare a market analysis of rental unit availability and has surveyed all school faculty regarding the need for high quality rental apartments in Bertie County. Out of 133 surveys completed by Bertie County School staff, the response is very favorable toward this project and the goal of providing high quality residential apartments as noted below:

85% of teachers surveyed reported that housing availability is important to them;

91% indicated that there is a lack of available housing;

94% said that there was not enough rental housing in Bertie County;

62% believe that Bertie housing rates are not comparable with surrounding counties;

95% said that apartments are definitely needed in Bertie County; and

55% indicated that if apartments were available, they would be interested in living there.

As the project has been discussed, a 24-unit residential apartment complex is envisioned to serve teachers and other public sector employees served by the State Employees Credit Union. Each apartment would be approximately 1,000 square feet with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.

Monthly rental rates are estimated at $650 per month plus utilities. For two young professionals starting their careers and sharing expenses in a two-bedroom unit, this should be very affordable.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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