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Apartment complex to become home for Hoke teachers

The Associated Press

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RAEFORD — A new apartment complex will address housing needs for Hoke County teachers and serve as a recruiting tool for the school system.

The Partners for Hoke County Public Schools Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization, plans to build a $2.4 million housing complex on 8.5 acres on Teal Street.

The 24-unit, two-bedroom apartment complex is expected to be completed in early July. The complex will be open to current and new teachers.

The complex, called Echo Ridge, has been in the making for three years. The project came about during discussions among advisory board members for the State Employees' Credit Union branch in Raeford. Members were concerned about the growing number of teachers who were leaving the school system to teach in the counties where they lived.

The committee submitted a proposal to the State Employees Credit Union Foundation in February 2009 requesting funding for the project.

The SECU Foundation promotes local and community development by funding housing, education, health care and human service projects. It funded similar teacher housing projects in Hertford and Dare counties.

The cost of rental property in the Outer Banks and Cape Hatteras was a factor in recruiting and retaining teachers. Teachers came in with a preconceived notion that it would be too expensive to live in the area, said Trip Hobbs, personnel director at Dare County schools.

The Dare County Education Foundation, SECU Foundation and the Dare County Board of Education worked together to build 24 rental units in Kill Devil Hills. The $2.4 million apartment complex opened in August 2008. A 12-unit apartment complex was built in 2011 to address housing needs in Buxton. The cost of that rental property was $1.6 million.

School officials had been studying the housing dilemma since 2000, Hobbs said. A survey of teachers showed the average cost of rent was $1,200 a month. Teachers pay $750 a month to live in the foundation-owned apartment complexes.

There is a short waiting list for the complex in Kill Devil Hills. Two units are available in Cape Hatteras, Hobbs said.

"In terms of teacher recruit(ing), to be able to say Dare County can offer affordable housing is an attention-getter," he said.

Mark Twisdale, SECU Foundation executive director, said the foundation tries to assist areas in the state that have affordable housing issues.

"Hoke County is a growing school system," he said "The housing market cannot keep up with the demand for housing that teachers can afford."

Better housing opportunities in Cumberland County have affected teacher retention in Hoke County, Twisdale said.

"If there is an opening in Cumberland, the teacher often opts for the job that is closer," he said. "We hope that the facility will provide a place that is convenient to work, safe and affordable."

The Partners for Hoke County Public Education Foundation was approved for a 15-year, zero interest loan from the SECU Foundation. A portion of the rent will go toward payment of the loan.

Once the loan is paid, the Partners for Hoke County Public Education Foundation can use the revenue from the rent to recruit teachers, provide resources to the schools or expand the housing project, Twisdale said.

Partners for Hoke County Public Education Foundation formed in 2009 to oversee the teacher housing project. It also serves as a fundraising arm for the school system.

Edens and Avant, a company based in Columbia, S.C., donated land for the project, said Hank Richards, chairman of the Hoke County Board of Education. The company contacted Raeford about giving 8 acres to the city. City officials encouraged the company to give the property to the Partners for Hoke County Public Education Foundation. The foundation received the land in June 2011.

"The biggest hurdle was the land. The credit union had some stipulations. They wanted the land to be centrally located in the county. Once we acquired the land, we were good to go," Richards said. "The site is ideal. It's the perfect location."

Hoke County officials recruit a number of teachers from out of state, Richards said. Echo Ridge is just another incentive to lure them to the school system.

"The board is very excited about it because affordable housing - housing, in general - has been a real concern for many of our teachers," Richards said. "Quite a few of them are having to live outside of the county because housing is simply not available here. Many of our young teachers from out of state are looking for rental property."

Superintendent Freddie Williamson said the project is another example of the private and public sector coming together for a common cause.

"We appreciate the efforts on everyone's part," he said. "Without everyone's support and effort, this would not be a reality."

Williamson said Echo Ridge will provide additional benefits, as well. The complex will be an environment where teachers can collaborate and solve issues.

"There will be opportunities to mentor and support each other," he said. "Hopefully, the demand will be great, and we will have to build more."

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