A Win for Everyone: Arkansas's Teacher Housing Incentives

Last Updated: November 06, 2008

Arkansas's Teacher Housing Incentives Help Schools Keep Teachers, Help Teachers Grow Investments, and Help Communities Build Wealth

This article appeared in the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.

Recruiting teachers is no small challenge for many rural schools especially those in communities where many people struggle economically.

But an unusual — and surprisingly simple — program in Arkansas is making a difference.

"Our agency, the Arkansas Teacher Housing Development Foundation, offers housing incentives to recruit and retain quality teachers in high priority school districts and to strengthen local economies," says Melanie Yelder, the Foundation's Director.

Here's how the program works. Teachers with three years of teaching experience, administrator recommendations, and a letter of employment from a high priority school district may apply to the Foundation for rental assistance or up to $10,000 in forgivable loan toward the purchase of a house.

High priority districts have critical teacher shortages or trouble recruiting and retaining teachers and 50% of more of students scoring below proficient on state bench-mark exams. Many of the districts have trouble matching salary rates of wealthier districts, so the program can provide a helpful financial boost to teachers.

There are some restrictions, however. The teacher must have the recommendation of an administrator, and the house or rental unit must be located within 30 miles of a high priority district. "Many of Arkansas's high priority districts are located close to other high priority districts, so the teachers have some flexibility," Yelder says.

Home Ownership and Rental Programs

"Our loan program differs from similar teacher homeownership assistance programs in that the loan is not limited to the minimum costs needed to secure the loan but is based on the purchase price of the house. Teachers can get up to 10% of the purchase price through the program. That helps the teacher build wealth through home equity more quickly," explains Yelder.

It also helps strengthen the teacher's ties to the community and helps build the community's property wealth. And, because the program works through local realtors and banks, it turns over cash within the communities.

"This is a demand-side program. It helps leverage programs and opportunities that are already out there," Yelder says. "Often in rural districts, teachers exceed prescribed minimum salaries for federally funded home purchase and/or rental assistance. This trend presented an opportunity for our agency to step in and fill that gap by offering an incentive that is not based on income but is based on service to our schools."

The rental program provides up to $2,000 per year, reimbursed in quarterly installments, toward rental housing. "We know that in rural areas rental agreements may not involve a traditional lease," says Yelder, "so we landlords can sign an affidavit with proof of rental payment." Several renters have become home owners through the program.

Making the Program Work

Since the program began in October 2007, the Foundation has awarded 50 teachers some type of housing assistance. So far all the awards have gone to teachers in rural districts although teachers in high priority urban districts are also eligible for the program.

The Foundation has not done much formal publicity because word-of-mouth advertising has been so strong. "It's a very simple and uniform application," Yelder says. "That has a lot of appeal to teachers and makes the process transparent to everyone."

Teachers are not eligible for the program until they have successfully finished three years of teaching. "We want people who can make a difference for kids in these schools," says Yelder.

Many of the teachers who apply for the program are already working in or near a high priority district. "We don't try to recruit people who have no interest in being in these districts. We focus on people who want to be there, who have reasons to teach in these schools," Yelder says. "So, let's beef up those reasons."

For more information visit www.housing4teachers.arkansas.gov/related_info.html. Read the stories of teachers who have participated in the program here.

Read more from the November 2008 Rural Policy Matters.