The Austin Independent School District is repurposing two of its campuses: one into a housing facility and the other into a child care center.
This move comes from the school district as an effort to attract and retain Austin teachers and staff with affordable housing.
Keri Heath, the K-12 education reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, joined the Standard to discuss the district’s plans and next steps.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: So which campuses are we talking about here? What are their names, and where are they in the city?
Keri Heath: So we’re talking about the old Pease Elementary School site, which is on Rio Grande, and that is going to become possibly a childcare facility. And then we’re also talking about the Anita Ferrales Coy site, which is on Gonzales Street, and that’s the site that AISD is talking about possibly becoming staff housing. There’s also a building on that site, which I think AISD would like to repurpose into some kind of multipurpose center.
So is it set in stone that those are the two campuses that one’s going to be a child care center, one is going to be teacher housing, or is there still some wiggle room in that?
Well, there’s no contract yet. The district has agreed to look for private partners or possibly nonprofits to partner with. So nothing is set in stone yet, but that seems to be the route that the district is going.
Why is the district doing this? Why have these two buildings been identified as needs by the district?
Yeah, well, they’re not used for actual learning facilities anymore. There used to be schools on both these sites, but the district is pretty hesitant to let go of these sites, as we all know. Housing and land prices in Austin are very expensive. And so I think there’s a sentiment among the district that if it gets rid of these sites, they may never get them back.
And I think the district also feels kind of a moral duty to steward these sites, especially some of the land that has been in the district for a long time. It has a personal connection to many people in the Austin community. So they really want to keep these sites interesting.
I guess the other side of it, too, is that this is meeting a need for the district in terms of its workforce. Could you tell me how this fits into their broader staffing plan?
Absolutely. I mean, teachers and in general school staff have been a challenge for districts across the state to recruit, especially since the pandemic. But this has been a problem for years and years. And Austin especially is having trouble with this because it is so expensive to live here. And, you know, they just can’t pay teachers and staff enough to meet the needs of the housing cost here.
In a recent survey, the district actually found that almost three-quarters of district employees who responded to that survey spend more than 30% of their income on housing, which is a lot. That’s so they’re hoping with housing, where they can kind of control the price a little bit more, it might help attract or keep some staff here.
So would staffers paid some rent if they lived in one of these houses at a reduced rate, or we just don’t have that information yet?
Yeah, I mean, they’d absolutely pay something. But exactly what this would look like is still very unclear. And we really won’t know that until the district gets closer to selecting a partner to go forward with on the site. We still don’t know if this would be apartment housing, single-family homes or a combination of both.
So lots of details still to come, Is Austin a trailblazer in this regard, or are they following the lead of other districts in Texas or the area that have done something similar?
Well, this isn’t exactly super common for districts, but they’re not the first ones to do this. Actually, Pflugerville ISD last year approved a bond that would create teacher and staff housing. So maybe they’ll get to this before Austin ISD does.