Interest high in Roaring Fork’s teacher housing program
Some 400 Roaring Fork School District teachers and classified staff responded to a recent survey expressing interest in the district’s new voter-approved employee housing program when it comes to fruition.
“It’s fair to say there was tremendous interest,” Jeff Gatlin, chief operating officer for RFSD, said Wednesday.
Of the larger $122 million bond issue approved by district voters last November, $15 million was earmarked for acquisition of housing in an effort to retain and attract teachers.
However, it will likely be at least another year before any rental units the district is able to secure with those funds will be occupied, Gatlin said.
The bond issue is also paying for a major renovation at Glenwood Springs Elementary School, a brand new K-8 school south of Glenwood and various projects at other schools and district facilities. Since its passage, in addition to design work on those projects, RFSD has been working on the fine details of the housing program.
Working with an advisory committee made up of citizens and district employees, Gatlin said the district solicited information from industry professionals to help lay the groundwork.
Formal requests for information were sent to real estate agencies and developers, and through that about half the responses indicated a willingness to sell existing residential units to the school district. The rest offered to consider partnering with the district to make new-built units available, he said.
“We’re still determining what we want that mix to be,” Gatlin said.
In convincing voters to approve the bond issue, the district agreed to split the $15 million evenly between Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt. With that, the district hopes to acquire between 15 and 20 units in each community.
“We want to honor that commitment as best we can,” Gatlin said. “We’re also trying to balance being good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and getting our staff who want to be part of the program into housing as soon as possible.”
The district is also working on guidelines to review and select housing applicants from within its ranks, while also reserving some units for new hires. The surveys requested information about financial need, community of preference, family size, how many bedrooms the respondents desired, and whether they have pets.
“It’s hard to know what kind of turnover cycle we can expect each year,” RFSD Superintendent Diana Sirko said. “But we do want to make sure we have some units available for new people coming in.”
The district typically hires between 40 and 60 new teachers each year, she said. Most of the employees who responded have been with the district less than five years, and the vast majority were teachers, although some classified support staff also responded, Sirko said.
Eventually, the district will also want to determine the range of rental rates it will be able to offer depending on unit size and type, Gatlin added. Those rates will likely follow established Area Median Income guidelines, he said.
The district has also been working to keep the local business community in the loop as to its progress in developing the housing program. Sirko said she plans to present to the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association next week, and regular updates are given at the twice-monthly RFSD school board meetings.
The chamber, in endorsing the bond issue last fall, did express some concerns about the employee housing component and questioned the use of property tax dollars to provide housing for just one segment of the local workforce.
“We do understand those concerns, and we want to make sure those voices are being heard,” Gatlin said. “We believe this is something that will help our issue, and also maybe begin to address the bigger affordable housing issues we are seeing.”
In addition to keeping an eye out for existing homes that are for sale, the district has been working with the developers of the next phase of the Willits project in Basalt to secure at least 14 units there.
The district was also approached by developers of the Ironbridge residential subdivision near Glenwood Springs earlier this year about possibly reserving six unbuilt townhouse units in that project. Neither of those offers has been finalized.
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