Column: Using closed schools to provide affordable workforce housing will benefit Jefferson County

Greg Romberg
Posted 9/20/22

If the Jefferson County Board of Education decides, as expected, to close 16 elementary schools throughout the county Nov. 10, one of the board’s most significant challenges will be to decide what to do with them.

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Column: Using closed schools to provide affordable workforce housing will benefit Jefferson County

Posted

If the Jefferson County Board of Education decides, as expected, to close 16 elementary schools throughout the county Nov. 10, one of the board’s most significant challenges will be to decide what to do with them. Using the schools and school properties for affordable workforce housing could check off several important boxes.

Schools have not been able to fill a variety of positions and one issue is that wages are insufficient to allow employees to live in communities where they work. The schools are in predominantly residential neighborhoods, and the district should honor the character of those neighborhoods in redevelopment efforts.

There are incredible opportunities to develop and offer a wide range of housing options and address important policy considerations. Housing on these sites should include a combination of rental and ownership. The schools themselves provide opportunities for development of multi-family structures that can reflect and celebrate the history the schools played in their communities. The land around the schools can be developed into single family homes and lower density multi-family units. There should be some market-based homes on the sites to create diversity and to generate funds to help with development costs.

Using these properties to make home ownership possible for school employees is an important goal with many benefits to employees and the public at-large, but it contains issues to make sure it is done fairly and equitably. There must be deed restrictions on any for-sale properties related to who can purchase homes in the future and how much appreciation owners can recognize when they sell their homes.  

Future owners must be able to qualify under the same rules as original owners. A more complicated issue will be to establish the rules about how much profit owners can achieve when they sell their homes. It is important that they can establish enough equity to invest in their next homes, but because they will have paid below market prices because oftaxpayer subsidies, they shouldn’t receive a windfall by selling at market prices. Additionally, for the public investment to have the most public benefit, new ownersshould also be school employees who benefit from being able to access affordable workforce housing.

Using closed schools to provide affordable workforce housing will benefit Jefferson County. It will help us attract and retain employees now and in the future andwill help maintain the character of the neighborhoods where the schoolswere located. To accomplish these important goals, the school district should begin a collaborative process with employee organizations, housing advocates, local government officials, builders and developers as soon as final closure decisions are made.

Greg Romberg had a long career in state and local government and in government relations. He represented corporate, government and trade association clients before federal, state and local governments. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie.

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