As the affordable housing crisis continues to plague Southwest Florida, Collier County Public Schools is pursuing a proactive solution that aims to provide relief to local teachers that are struggling to afford a place to live.
“This is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed because it impacts not only our ability to retain our teachers, but also to recruit,” Brian Williams, Associate General Counsel at CCPS, said at the latest school board meeting.
The plan to provide essential housing is through the use of a 35-acre unused property adjacent to Manatee Elementary School, land that is owned by CCPS. The empty field has been set aside for when a new high school is needed, but a new building at that spot is not within CCPS’ 20-year plan.
The flexible property would be used for modular housing and then a school site in the future if needed. The zoning allows for single family homes at 4 units per acre and would need to get redesignation approved by the county commissioners to allow for modular homes.
“I’m very proud of us for working to solve our own problem instead of waiting for the county to do it,” School Board Member Stephanie Lucarelli said.
These homes will be designated for use of school district teachers and staff but could potentially be used for other essential workers such as first responders, firefighters and nurses.
Providing this temporary housing to local school workers is part of a larger, long-term goal. Ideally, this would help segue teachers in Southwest Florida community for the Hometown Heroes program which helps first-time homebuyers though grants of up to $25,000 towards purchasing a home. Providing essential housing allows for saving for permanent housing.
This initiative, which is still in the preliminary stages, has many details that are still in the works such as deciding how the use of firearms and alcohol on the housing property would be regulated since those items are banned on CCPS-owned land.
“Obviously safety and security are the utmost importance whenever a property is adjacent to our schools, whether it’s property owned by us or not,” Williams said.
Right now, staff is working with a local real estate attorney to analyze and research the property in regard to its zoning use and deciding how to approach the board of commissioners with their new zoning request.
“I don’t think we’re looking at providing houses that [teachers] could move into right away for the rest of their lives, but mostly attracting younger couples or people coming down from other states and offering them the opportunity to move into a community with other teachers,” School Board member Roy Terry said. “There’s a whole lot of good things that could come out of that.”