BLAINE COUNTY, Idaho — As rising rent and fewer housing options continue to be problems for essential workers in Idaho resort towns, the Blaine County School District (BCSD) is taking steps to find a solution for staff.
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a two-year pilot program that will provide stipends for staff in need of aid with rent and utilities.
"Things during the pandemic in Blaine County got a little crazy," said BCSD Board of Trustee Daniel Turner. "One of them that got the craziest was the price of housing."
The district is able to allocate money from the Financial Emergency Reserve Fund to give employees up to $500 a month in rental assistance. Staff and their household who spend 30% of their income on rent, utilities and other housing costs in Blaine County are eligible for the stipend.
Staff who apply for the stipend will submit financial records for all earners in the household to a third-party housing and finance group to determine their eligibility.
"My hope is that they understand that we're listening, this is an issue we want to help solve," Turner told KTVB.
Turner has served as the Zone 4 trustee member for nearly a year and a half, he began in the middle of the pandemic. From his experience living in Blaine County, there has always been a housing issue. He added it didn't help with more out-of-town residents moving into the area during the pandemic.
"The housing supply that is here is being taken up by those that bring large salaries and assets into the community and pushes it away from those who are making a living here," Turner said.
Turner teachers and staff in the school district are part of that group.
The district's working group surveyed staff in July and found 25% of the district's workforce rents their home, according to Turner. About 60% of those who rent saw significant increases in prices within the last year. Nearly 75% of staff who rent would consider leaving Blaine County School District because of high housing costs.
"Already the teaching profession is under a great deal of stress, but when you hear things like that housing really needs to be a critical component of the strategic plan going forward," Turner said.
For Blaine County School District, this is not only a retention problem, it has become a recruitment issue too. Turner said there have been qualified candidates who turned down positions and teaching contracts within the district because they could not find a place to live.
"I certainly think that making housing affordable for a period of time so an employee can count on that money being available will be helpful," said Michelle Griffth, the executive director of ARCH Community Housing Trust.
Griffth said the affordable housing group has helped district leaders find ideas, like housing stipends, to meet the needs of living costs for employees.
"Stipends allow employers to fill the gap between what a household can afford to pay for rent and where the market is with rent," Griffth said.
The plan also includes a clawback provision for staff that accepts the aid and leaves within three years. Employees would need to pay the entire amount back if they stay employed by the district for a year or less. It then varies, staff would either pay 50-75% if employed for one to three years.
Turner said the pilot program is the first step for the district when it comes to providing solutions to affordable housing. Eventually, he hopes the district can build its own housing on already owned land.
"We understand the issues and we want to do something about it," Turner reiterated.
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