If you build it, they will teach? A building in St. Petersburg, Fla. that previously served as a junior high school will be transformed into an affordable housing apartment complex. This is being done in order to attract more teachers to the Pinellas County school district to aid in recruitment and retention efforts, according to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times.
In a situation seen as a partial byproduct of high housing costs, school districts across the state of Florida are struggling to recruit and retain teachers. Adding to the issue are concerns raised by educators regarding their working conditions including pay, a lack of support, inflexibility in instruction requirements, lack of multi-year contracts and large classroom sizes according to the Florida Education Association.
High housing costs near certain schools has been a persistent issue, and school districts are hoping that low-cost housing for faculty and staff could help relieve some of these issues. Opponents of the move liken such actions to creating “company towns,” giving employers more power over their employees’ lives.
At Pinellas County Schools, a team of developers has been selected to convert the former junior high school into a development of roughly 225 apartments in total.
“113 of the units [will be] reserved as workforce housing for school district employees making 90 to 120% of the area’s median income,” the Tampa Bay Times reported. “Rent for those units will range between $1,263 and $2,160, according to a news release from the school district.”
Rent for the remaining 112 units in the complex will be priced in line with the current market value, with rent estimated to vary between $2,156 and $2,771, the district said.
Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Kevin Hendrick says the move will align the district with its goals of supporting, retaining and recruiting more educators.
“The innovative and collaborative approach of the Tomlinson Community Partners aligns with Pinellas County Schools’ goal to support the housing needs of our dedicated educators and employees,” Hendrick said in a press release announcing the development earlier this month. “To attract and retain the best teachers and district employees, we must proactively provide accessible and appealing housing choices.”
The building at the heart of the Pinellas County development deal served as a vocational high school in the 1930s, and later served as an adult education center. It closed in December 2021 due to low enrollment.
Only a small portion of apartments will be constructed within the walls of the building itself, with a 14-story tower and a 10-story building also being planned for the site, which sits on 1.36 acres.