By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on July 29, 2019
In an attempt to re-establish the district’s two teacher housing complexes as a recruitment tool for prospective new teachers, the Dare County Board of Education this spring approved a revised lease for tenants that now strictly enforces a four-year occupancy limit.
Teachers and faculty members currently living at Run Hill Ridge in Kill Devil Hills were handed the new lease earlier this summer. The contracts, which went into effect July 1, put teachers who are approaching or have surpassed that limit on notice that they must find alternative living arrangements by July 1 of next year. The lease for the teacher housing complex in Hatteras is still pending.
The new lease comes against a backdrop of growing concern about the impact of the shortage of reasonably priced housing on the Dare County workforce and economy. The Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce has led efforts to improve the situation, encouraging towns and the county to reevaluate zoning ordinances and make adjustments to improve the situation.
“The original purpose of the housing units was temporary housing for teachers…a gateway into finding other places,” Dare County Schools (DCS) Digital Communications Director Keith Parker said. But he said in some cases the teacher housing units, “have become more permanent scenarios. The original mission was as a recruiting tool.”
Parker added that the that prime recruiting months for teachers begin in April and last into the summer. He also noted that in the past, the four-year lease limit had not been strictly enforced.
“Due to a long wait-list and in fairness to serve as many teachers as possible, leases that were approaching or had gone beyond 48-months were restructured from month to month to a one-year lease,” Dare Education Foundation (DEF) Executive Director Amy Sasscer wrote in an email in response to an inquiry by the Outer Banks Voice.
For her part, Dare County Board of Education Chairperson Bea Basnight said that the original intent of the housing complexes was to be a temporary situation for new teachers. “It was built to recruit teachers, to give them time to become acclimated. We didn’t want to keep it full, but rather use it as a recruiting tool.”
Dare County Schools (DCS) and the DEF partnered to construct the two complexes – Run Hill Ridge in 2009 and Hatteras Housing Complex in 2011 – as a way to tackle the housing challenges that new teachers faced when considering a job with the school district. DCS owns the land and DEF leases it.
The 24-unit complex in Kill Devil Hills, along with the 12-unit building in Buxton, feature two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartments for $850 a month and often generate a significant waiting list, which school officials say can complicate recruiting efforts during a time of year when year-round affordable housing on the Outer Banks is scarce.
DEF’s Sasscer indicated that her organization worked on new lease terms for several months before forwarding it to the Board of Education for its approval in April. Along with the occupancy terms, the new lease also confirms that units cannot be sublet and clarifies what type of pets and how many are allowed.
“The waiting list continues to vary over time and can be lengthy,” Sasscer wrote in a prepared statement. She did not respond to a question regarding how long the waiting list currently is or how many teachers will have to move by next summer.
According to the DCS Jobs Board, there are currently six teacher vacancies and three teacher assistant vacancies in the school system.
A June Facebook post from one teacher affected by the new policy said that there has been a waiting list since she’s moved into the Kill Devil Hills complex, and indicated that even as an established teacher, finding housing was proving to be challenging.
“I don’t want this to be my final year at FFHS due to lack of housing,” she wrote, but also acknowledged: “If not for the teacher housing, I wouldn’t have been able to accept a job in Dare County at all.”
One teacher wrote that she was a tenant at Run Hill Ridge and that there are 12 teachers at the complex who would have to find other housing before July 1 of next year. Another teacher wrote: “This is an issue all over NC. But it’s worse in high property value areas like Dare County. A teacher working full time should be able to afford housing and the basics to live.”
And one offered the suggestion, presumably in jest, that the school district could “possibly allow you to add a cot and microwave to your classroom.”