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Austin ISD, Habitat for Humanity celebrate homes built for district staff

The district sold land with a requirement that 25% of the homes would be affordable and marketed toward teachers and staff.

AUSTIN, Texas — School districts are pulling out all the stops to ensure their staff can have affordable living near their jobs.

On Thursday, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) and Austin Habitat for Humanity hosted an event to commemorate the creation of seven homes bought by AISD employees.

A partnership was formed last year in an effort to provide 30 affordable homes in two developments. So far, four homes have been closed on, according to the district's real estate director, Jeremy Striffler. 

The land used to be owned by the district but was sold under a requirement 25% of the homes would be priced affordably and marketed toward the district's teachers and staff. 

"It's everyone's dream to own a home. And as a father of two, you know, the biggest thing is, you know, can you stay there? Can you stay in-district, can you provide that for your kids? And as a father, that was important," said Steven Caplan, an AISD teacher and one of the families who recently closed on a home. 

Caplan said he and his partner were in a tough spot before this option came around, and they worried they may be forced out of the district and Austin altogether.

"We started to have the talk like, 'Does someone have to quit?' Because Austin is so expensive. And once we found this out, we're like, 'You know what, we don't need to quit. We can afford this home, we can stay in district, we can live close.' And it solved our problems," Caplan said. 

Caplan advised other teachers to read their emails and look out for options provided by their district.

"The district can't do too much, per se, to increase our pay, but they're trying to solve it in other ways and selling the land. Giving these homes for teachers was just fantastic, so we're just extremely grateful," Caplan said. 

According to Striffler, the district surveyed its 10,000 employees in January and discovered that more than 2,700 had responded over housing and 70% admitted they were cost-burdened.

In June, the district approved a 7% pay raise for teachers and a $4 per hour increase for hourly employees for the upcoming 2023-24 school year.

"We really feel like we need to do more beyond just compensation. We need to find ways of how we can bring resources to our teachers and staff to help ensure that they can live and work in the communities they serve," Striffler said.

Striffler pointed to a variety of options the district has been working on, such as creating more partnerships across the city, hosting events where staff can give input about homeownership and repurposing buildings to affordable housing.

In March, district leaders approved a plan to redevelop the Anita Ferrales Coy Facility into affordable housing for teachers and staff, with a stated goal of creating 500 units. 

"We're now seeing what developers are coming to the table. we expect to have proposals in mid August. We'll evaluate and then bring to the board recommended partner for the Coy site in the fall," Striffler said.

The district is still encouraging its teachers and staff to take advantage of the resources available and invites them to bring any ideas they believe could lift their burden.

"We know a lot more as needed, and so we're trying to combat it from all sides," Striffler said.

Boomtown is KVUE's series covering the explosive growth in Central Texas. For more Boomtown stories, head to KVUE.com/Boomtown.

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