“Home Sweet Home?”

“Fine Tuning” Episode 4 (Now with Practice Pointers!)

Clinton CampionSedor, Wendlandt, Evans & Filippi, LLC

As we are all grappling with rising costs due to inflation and statewide housing shortages, this month, our commentary focuses on the issue of teacher housing. This is the fourth installment of our 2022-23 school year theme of “fine tuning.” Specifically, we are looking at the issue of “fine tuning” policies and practices regarding teacher housing.

According to the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the average home sales price increased by 9% in the past year. Rising interest rates will likely make housing even less affordable this year and in future years. Rents are up and vacancy rates are down. Across the state, Alaskans are twice as likely to live in an overcrowded household than the national average. The rates are much higher in small rural communities. During this school year, there have been media reports of teachers and their families living in the same classrooms in which they are educating students during the school day.

The housing shortage is not just a problem for rural school districts. Every school district in the state, just like every other employer in the state, is struggling to recruit and retain employees. Housing is a key component of this struggle.

Families and students are also struggling with the housing shortages. All school districts should be reminded of the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, 42 U.S.C. §§ 11431 et seq. This federal law requires school districts to designate a homeless student liaison to ensure the district is fulfilling its legal obligations to homeless students. This law requires school districts to consider the best interests of homeless students in determining which school the student will be enrolled in, and when feasible, requires homeless students to remain enrolled in their school of origin, regardless of their current residence. School districts have additional obligations requiring transportation and records for homeless students.

All school boards must consider the impact of Alaska’s housing shortages and inflation on their employees. REAA School boards are obligated to provide prospective employees with information about the availability and cost of housing in any rural areas to which they might be assigned. When possible, REAA school boards must assist employees with locating housing but are not required to provide teacher housing or housing subsidies. See Alaska Statute 14.14.090(8).

A 2001 study conducted by the University of Alaska’s Institute for Social and Economic Research determined that almost half of the teachers leaving Alaska’s rural school districts point to the lack of quality housing as a primary reason for leaving.

In 2004, the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation (AHFC) began offering rural government entities assistance to better attract and retain educators, along with health care providers and public safety professionals. This program, known as the Teacher, Health Professional, and Public Safety Housing Grant Program, has supported the construction of more than 500 rural housing units with more than $100 million in grants.

A list of the housing projects developed through this program is available at thhp_project_summary_030520.pdf (ahfc.us).

An interactive map of the projects is available at Rural Professional Housing – Mapline Map.

AHFC made $3,000,000 in grants available for fiscal year 2023 with a maximum of $500,000 per applicant. Applicants must find at least 15% of the total development cost and are encouraged to find other state, federal and community fundings to partner with AHFC for the development of teacher housing projects. AHFC ultimately provides “gap funding” for rural housing development projects. It is expected that AHFC will provide notice of the fiscal year 2023 grants in November 2022. In spring, AHFC is expected to release its Notice of Funding Availability for fiscal year 2024.

School districts who previously were awarded teacher housing grants by AHFC are eligible for future grants if they can demonstrate they complied with AHFC’s requirements. All applicants must also complete an all-day training sponsored by AHFC. Applicants must submit several documents in support of their applications, including a resolution from the school board supporting the application, proof of site control over the land where the housing would be constructed, an environmental review, and a development and operational cost estimate. Most school districts do not have this type of expertise and must seek support from a credible third party in the application process.

Practice Pointers

School boards may not be able to change interest rates or solve the housing shortage, but there are some steps they can take to address the issues arising from the shortage. For this month’s “Practice Pointers,” or practical suggestions for school board members and administrators to consider each month, please consider the following:

  1. Does your district have a homeless student policy that complies with the requirements of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act of 1987?  
  2. Does your district have a policy which reflects its obligations to provide information to prospective employees about the availability and cost of housing in rural areas?
  3. Is your district eligible for AHFC teacher housing grants? If so, should you consider applying for a grant?

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