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Teacher housing project gains speed

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Board of Commissioners at their monthly meeting on Monday approved a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the teacher housing initiative which has been a priority for the Board as well as other stakeholders since the idea was first introduced in 2014.

One of those stakeholders, the Bertie County Board of Education, was also present at the Commissioners’ meeting.

“This is something we’d like to have as a part of the application package for the Windsor Township Development Commission,” said Bertie County Manager Scott Sauer in introducing the draft MOU.

In addition to the Development Commission, Bertie’s County Commissioners and the Board of Education, the Windsor Town Commission is also involved in the project.

“This is actually set up to be a multi-party agreement because it includes (all of these),” said Sauer. “Each of the parties has stated their interest, their commitment, their support, and their participation in this process.”

Going back to when then-Bertie County Schools superintendent Elaine White requested a teacher housing initiative as part of the schools’ budget, her successors have all based its necessity on the recruitment of teachers for the school district. At that time, White 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, White expressed the risk of losing to teachers to surrounding school systems if a teacher is already living in Williamston, Ahoskie or Greenville.

Sauer said the draft memo merely puts things on the table for everyone to view.

“This MOU has captured all the important elements,” said Commissioner Ronald ‘Ron’ Wesson, who has spearheaded the project, including securing information from the primary funding source: the State Employees Credit Union. “It’s a vital piece of the application process because they want to understand not only who the partners are, but what their role and commitment are to this project.”

Among the memorandum’s high points: in addition to the SECU, the Golden LEAF Foundation has contributed $240,000 to the project which would assist with on-site utilities, thus reducing financing and debt service. In addition to school personnel, apartment applicants for residence in the 24-unit complex would include local government professionals such as law enforcement, hospital workers, EMTs and possibly other state employees.

The Mid-East Commission (Region Q Council of Government) prepared a market analysis this past year of rental unit availability and conducted a survey of Bertie County school faculty members and staff regarding the need for high quality rental apartments, which resulted in a very favorable scoring of support for creating the availability of apartment housing in Bertie County.

After an evaluation of three pieces of property (two county-owned, the other owned by Windsor) as potential sites for the project, the interest group held a meeting seeking public input. Afterward, the parties involved settled on the town-owned 6.33 acres known as ‘Harrell Heights’ on US-17 Business South to be donated to the Windsor Township Development Commission (WTDC).

The interest group also proposes zero-interest 15-year financing and business plan to support and sustain the project through construction and operation. The WTDC would serve as the owner and applicant in order to seek project financing from the SECU with Bertie County handling the day-to-day management of the apartment complex under a formal contract with the WTDC at no management fee to them by utilizing existing staff.

“We’re in the home stretch now,” Wesson continued. “We’re ready to go (with the additional grant), and this makes the numbers really sweet and we’re now awaiting approval as well as a final vote from the local (SECU) Board.”

Wesson said the local board had given the project earlier approval, but he hopes the additional money moves it closer to a certainty. The SECU application deadline will be sometime in February.

“It’s been a long road,” he explained. “But we’re getting very close.”

County Commission chairman Ernestine Byrd Bazemore said all the stakeholders needed to review the memorandum before final approval.