One of those challenges that consortia and studies have addressed is affordable housing.
So called “man camps” have been built all over Live Oak County and McMullen County to accommodate oil field workers. Before those camps – and many cabins and RV parks are still being built – motels, hotels and rentals were filled with the workers, leaving little housing for a community’s workforce. And what housing was available came at a premium price, some as much as $2,000 a month.
This lack of affordable housing is apparent in the jobs that can’t be filled at fast food restaurants, motels and other businesses that pay minimum wage or a little more. Workers can’t afford to live in a community where the wage is not relative to the rent.
But the problem has effected a greater challenge to school districts that want to hire new staff, something the districts do routinely.
Teachers’ salaries are so that they can pay the normal $600 or so a month and live comfortably, but $2,000 a month turns them away, and most of the time, too, rentals are non-existent.
That’s why Three Rivers school district is considering purchases of property to put manufactured homes on.
“Right now we know of three new staff members who can’t find housing,” said Three Rivers Superintendent Kenneth Rohrbach.
“Right now, there’s nothing to rent,” he said.
“Our end goal is affordable housing for staff. We may put in some duplexes – maybe two-story,” he said.
“The housing will pay for itself over the years,” he added.
Rohrbach noted the school board approved the purchase of two mobile homes to be set up within the next month. The board also approved the purchase of some lots to place the homes on.
“One already is spoken for. The rent will be very affordable. We’ll put in lawns and make it look nice,” he said.
Superintendent Dave Underwood, of the McMullen County school district, said his district made housing for staff part of the May bond issue voters approved.
“We are building four new teacher houses,” he said.
The district had built nine others back in the 1970s because Tilden was in a rural area lacking housing.
“Now there’s more of a demand from people moving in,” he said. “And what there is for rent is high.”
Like Three Rivers, the Tilden area also has rentals for $2,000 a month and higher, according to Underwood.
“And there’s no place to live,” he added.
He said two of his teachers commute from the north sides of San Antonio and Corpus Christi.
Underwood noted that many teachers in McMullen County and Tilden grew up in the area and already have housing, but new positions are coming available and with them a need for housing.
Also, the district’s existing nine houses are filled and have a waiting list.
Underwood said there are five on the waiting list communitywide.
What that means is the rentals are available to anybody, but teachers have priority.
The rental agreement provides that if a teacher is in need of the rental, the renter of the needed rental has 30 days to move out of it.
He said the school district houses will rent for $650 to $750 a month.
But two of the old houses will have to be torn down because of bad foundations, leaving 11 houses after the new four are built.
The new houses will have a living room kitchen combined, three bedrooms and two bathrooms.
George West school district Superintendent Ty Sparks said housing is one of the biggest issues his district is facing right now.
He said the district still has five positions to fill and often when a teacher or staff member checks out rent and places to stay, they change their minds about accepting the position.
“There’s not much real estate available. We are considering our options. We’ll figure a way to put housing on property we own. But we’re not trying to make money. We’re trying to provide housing,” he said.
Sparks said the real concern is for the students. He explained that continuity at the schools is very important to the kids. And turnover, which happens with new teachers trying to get a start in the field, is a negative for the students.
Sparks said teachers’ pay ranges from $37,000 up to $50,000, depending on experience. When the rent is $1,200 or higher, he said, that takes a big portion of the salary.
And when teachers look for housing in Beeville or elsewhere out of town, then they have to factor in the fuel to drive to George West.
“Rent is easier for a single person. It’s very difficult for families,” he said.
He added that the district has hired single people so far.
All three superintendents said they must address the issue because it’s not going away.