School board to hear proposal to provide housing assistance for teachers
By Risa Polansky
The Miami-Dade County School Board may consider providing housing down-payment assistance for teachers in an attempt to increase recruitment and retention of entry-level employees.
"All of the local governments are encountering a phenomenon when many of our younger or newer employees are finding themselves priced out of our local housing market," said Evelyn Greer, the board member behind the proposal. "People are moving to other municipalities, and it's stripping our workforce of entry-level workers and making it hard to do our jobs."
The board's Taskforce on Affordable Housing and Compensation Trust was to present at a July 12 meeting a proposal requesting that the board hire a consultant to perform a formal assessment of the board's property holdings, its administration needs and the cost of potential redevelopment.
Ms. Greer hopes the consultant would find it feasible to eventually sell excess school-owned property to "free up acreage downtown, take the money, put it in a trust fund, generate interest and use that interest to fund down-payment assistance for our employees," she said.
Ms. Greer said the 10 acres next to the Performing Arts Center housing the School Board Administration Building are being used inefficiently, with 9 acres designated for parking. She said she thinks the land could be sold for about $100 million and the district could build a more consolidated building and parking structure elsewhere and use revenue from the sale to fund housing assistance.
She said other school-owned land could be redeveloped. Two elementary schools south of Fifth Street on Miami Beach that are underused, she said, could be consolidated, freeing money and land to aid housing without compromising education.
Another hope, Ms. Greer said, is to form relationships with developers to arrange discounted housing for teachers.
"We should take a look at other property we own around the city that is unused or underused and look for the opportunity to redevelop, possibly for school and housing use," she said.
Ms. Greer said she thinks the best solution to the problem is funding down-payment assistance.
"I think that's more useful than building housing, and this way, our employees can choose to live wherever they want," she said. "I'm also cautious about going outside what our mission is. Our mission is schools."
Ms. Greer said she hopes to join forces with the Miami-Dade Housing Agency, which runs an affordable-home ownership program. Juan Garcia, assistant director of the agency, said it provides "second-mortgage financing for low- to moderate-income homebuyers."
Through the program, potential homebuyers select a lender from a list of participants and apply for a first mortgage. Applicants are generally approved if they have an acceptable credit history and could pay off the mortgage with about 33% of their monthly income.
Once approved for the initial mortgage, the lenders refer those who qualify to the county to be considered for second-mortgage assistance. The subsidy level from the county depends on the applicant's need based on family size, income and the location of the home.
According to the agency, a single teacher making the average starting salary of about $35,000 qualifies for up to $50,000 from the agency.
"My interest is that our teachers would apply for the Miami-Dade County assistance and that we would make an agreement with the county that once employees qualified for that, they would qualify for additional funding from us," Ms. Greer said.
"That way, we wouldn't have to set up a bureaucracy since the county already does a qualification process. I hope we could pool our resources, and I hope our grant would be at least $25,000 so a teacher could anticipate, if they qualified, about $50,000 from the county housing agency and $25,000 from us."
Mr. Garcia said he supports Ms. Greer's effort.
"What Ms. Greer is proposing is what we have been looking for from other municipalities because the county's aid may not be enough in this housing market," he said. "This is the first group of employers that has come up with their own initiative, and it is very welcome."
Since 2002, Mr. Garcia said, the county has provided about $62 million in homeowner loans. Since January, when the agency began tracking loans by occupation, the agency has provided 21 loans to teachers, he said.
Because the intent of Ms. Greer's plan is to retain employees, the school board likely would require borrowers to stay in their jobs for a certain time. Mr. Garcia said this would probably be enforced by a deed restriction.
Ms. Greer said it would take about three months for a consultant to be hired and about four months for the consultant to do an analysis of the board's property holdings and the plan's feasibility.
"This is very preliminary," Ms. Greer said. "The board has not yet received this report or had a discussion."
Mr. Garcia said it is a good time for the proposal. "This comes at a critical time when many employers are finding it difficult to recruit and retain employees," he said. "Whatever they could provide in addition to us could make a lot more loans possible."