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Since a looming teacher shortage was first identified as a problem facing Sonoma County schools nearly two years ago, the Sonoma County Office of Education has worked diligently to recruit and retain quality teachers for the county’s school districts. I’m pleased to say that the North Coast School of Education, which SCOE launched in January 2016, now has 140 teaching candidates enrolled.

Some of these candidates already are working as interns in local classrooms, easing the impact of teacher retirements and helping our community stay ahead of the staffing shortage that is impacting schools around the state and nation.

Still, many challenges remain to recruiting and, perhaps more importantly, retaining high-quality teachers. A key challenge to retention is the cost of living. The median home cost in the county is now more thna $600,000. The median teacher salary is about $64,000, making saving for a down payment and meeting monthly mortgage costs nearly impossible. The median salary for beginning teachers is even lower.

It is imperative that teachers live in the community they serve. It builds upon community values and reinforces the sense of belonging that is essential to retaining high-quality teachers. Communities without sufficient affordable housing options face high rates of teacher turnover. This costs school districts and creates disruption for students.

In the coming months, the county superintendent’s office will be addressing the affordability and availability of housing for these young professionals through three initiatives.

However, we can’t do it alone. Buy-in and support from community-minded investors is needed to get started. My goal in writing this is to call upon the community to invest in our county’s future by putting resources toward teacher housing.

The first initiative is a partnership with the Housing Land Trust of Sonoma County. This partnership provides an opportunity for entry-level teachers with little or no down payment to enter the housing market and build equity in a new home. Anyone wishing to support this not-for-profit organization will help it grow in its mission and provide more affordable housing for the community.

The second opportunity is a model established by a Silicon Valley startup called Landed. In this system, investors make an equity contribution to a fund that helps teachers make a standard down payment, thereby minimizing mortgage payments.

In return, they get a modest return on their investment in the form of a share of the house’s appreciation when the home is sold or refinanced. I aim to identify four to six local investors who can place $50,000 to $100,000 in a portfolio that will be used to help homebuying teachers make a down payment. I hope to help facilitate this investment option through my office. I’m seeking a local bank or credit union to help coordinate the effort.

The third initiative is the Teacher Housing Act of 2016, which became law in January. This option allows school districts to establish housing specifically for teachers and other school employees on district-owned property, while still providing federal and state tax credits for affordable housing. It allows public-private partnerships to keep teachers in their communities.

To encourage investment, private investors and developers are eligible for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, where they previously were not. The Sonoma County Office of Education has 2½5 acres off Dutton Avenue in southwest Santa Rosa that could provide 60 units of housing for educators. I am seeking community-minded investors to partner in converting this land into affordable rental units for local teachers.

Steven D. Herrington is superintendent of Sonoma County schools. Email him at sherrington@scoe.org.

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