Among the many challenges faced by urban schools, attracting and retaining high-quality teachers ranks among the most enduring. A new development in downtown Newark may offer a solution to this problem: Teachers Village, a six-building, mixed-use project that includes not only retail space and recreational amenities but also three schools and a daycare, along with affordable apartments for the educators who work in them.
A lack of appealing and affordable housing is a contributing factor to teacher retention difficulties. Teacher salaries have remained essentially flat, after adjusting for inflation, for the past 20 years, while rents have risen by around 15%. The problem is more acute in some inner cities, where there’s a lack of desirable housing near schools that have the greatest need for teachers.
Conceived by social impact investor and developer Ron Beit, CEO of RBH Group, Teachers Village received funding via a public-private partnership that included investments from major players like Goldman Sachs and Prudential Financial as well as state and federal tax credits and a city payment in lieu of tax (PILOT) program. The $150 million project sits on five blocks that previously was mostly dilapidated buildings and parking lots near Newark’s Penn Station.
The development features more than 200 Richard Meier–designed apartments, 70% of which currently house educators, including district teachers, charter school teachers, and AmeriCorps tutors. The schools and apartments attract 1,000 teachers and students to the community each day.
Construction began in February 2012, with the first school opening in 2013 and the sixth and final building being completed in October 2017. The project has been so successful that RBH Group is planning Teachers Villages in a handful of other cities, including Chicago and Hartford, Connecticut.
Beyond Teachers Village
Newark isn’t the only municipality looking for an answer to the affordable housing problem faced by teachers, and many others are tackling the issue on a smaller scale. A school district in Vail, Arizona, for example, has announced plans to build up to 24 tiny homes to house teachers who can’t afford to live elsewhere, while another in Durham, North Carolina, is working with a nonprofit developer to build 24 apartments for teachers on the grounds of an old school. In 2016, California passed the Teacher Housing Act of 2016, which aims to use land owned by school districts to develop income-restricted housing meant for teachers and school district employees.
Of course, not all teachers want to rent their housing, and the affordability issue pops up when it comes to purchasing homes as well, although this varies substantially by geography. An April 2017 analysis by real estate website Trulia found that teacher salaries can cover housing in metro areas throughout the Rust Belt but that affordable housing is harder to come by in places where real estate is booming, like coastal California, Austin, Denver, and Honolulu. Homes are least affordable for teachers in San Francisco, where only 0.4% of listings would be considered affordable (defined as taking up 31% or less of income) for a single teacher.
But the success of initiatives like Teachers Village shows promise for the many teachers—and workers in other professions—in need of affordable housing across the country.