A Senate bill that would authorize the state to provide affordable rental housing units for teachers has moved one step closer to being passed.
The House Committee on Housing passed Senate Bill 804 SD1 HD1 7-0 with amendments on Tuesday. The measure aims to address Hawaii’s teacher shortage — in the 2018-2019 school year, there were a reported 1,029 vacancies statewide — by appropriating funds from the Hawaii Public Housing Authority and the dwelling unit revolving fund. The state Department of Education would also be required to partner with private entities to procure teacher housing.
Of the 674 teachers who resigned from the Hawaii public school system in the 2019-20 school year, more than 54% cited “leaving Hawaii” as their primary reason for resigning, according to HIDOE’s 2019-20 employment report. In her written testimony in support of the bill, the state’s superintendent of education Christina Kishimoto noted the disparity between Hawaii and other states when it comes to affordable housing options for teachers.
“A December 2020 comparison report developed for the Department on teacher recruitment revealed that similarly situated school districts in other states provide greater opportunities for low- to no-cost teacher housing for full-time employees,” she said. “Furthermore, this report reveals that focus groups of current and former Department teachers echoed the need for not only more affordable housing opportunities, but inventory both in geographically isolated areas and in higher priced rental locations.”
The bill has garnered support from the Department of Education (DOE) and Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA) as well as from the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA).
“A teacher rental housing program will, as long as it is affordable for teachers, assist them in attaining sustainable and stable residency, while staving off crushing debt burdens,” HSTA president Corey Rosenlee wrote in testimony supporting the bill. “It would also make the teaching profession more attractive by increasing educators’ ability to find affordable housing that won’t take their whole paycheck.”
The total amount of money to be appropriated is currently unspecified; previous editions of the bill proposed an appropriation of $10 million for each of the next two fiscal years.
Under the proposal, the DOE would be required to lease land — in contract with private entities — for development, management, maintenance, or revitalization of housing for teachers employed by the department or public charter schools. Though the housing would prioritize teachers, the owners of these properties would be allowed to rent to eligible non-teacher tenants if the project is less than 95% occupied by teachers.
To remain alive, the bill still needs to be secure a hearing before the House Committee on Finance. A hearing date had not yet been scheduled as of press-time Wednesday.