City Schools of Decatur is working on an effort to provide affordable housing for teachers and school staff. VANESSA McCRAY/AJC FILE PHOTO
By Lucinda Warnke
The Decatur City Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a motion for Superintendent Maggie Fehrman to apply for permits to convert two district-owned buildings into affordable housing for teachers and school staff.
The move, which the school board voted on during Tuesday’s meeting, marks what’s believed to be the first attempt in metro Atlanta to create housing owned by a school district.
The idea to convert them into housing for district employees was first discussed during a September 2022 meeting. It is part of a broader effort by Decatur city government to address the city’s lack of affordable housing. The median monthly rent for a property in Decatur is $1,855, according to Zillow. A first-year teacher in Decatur City Schools makes around $50,000 a year, according to the district’s 2022-2023 salary schedule.
“We do want to have and contribute to the opportunity to create middle housing for the city of Decatur with these two properties,” Fehrman, who is filling the role of superintendent until a permanent hire is named, said during the meeting. “That is why we want to go ahead and apply for these permits, see if we can get these approved.”
As part of those efforts, the Decatur City Commission voted on Feb. 6 to amend city zoning codes to allow duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in single-family zoning districts starting on June 30. These types of housing were previously banned in single-family zoning districts. However, the city is limiting the number of building permits for these types of projects for the first 18 months after the new code goes into effect. This prompted school board members to vote to deputize Fehrman to request two permits required to convert the buildings.
The two school district-owned buildings, located at Westchester Drive and McDonough Street, were purchased by the district in 2018, along with two other buildings to be used as extra space for offices. Current plans for the buildings propose subdividing them into duplexes or triplexes, and possibly adding additional dwelling units.
Some districts across the country have devised similar plans and said they’ve seen success. A school district in Fort Stockton, Texas, purchased an old motel for $705,000 in December 2021 and converted it into housing for district employees. The motel was quickly filled, and the move was critical in solving a teacher shortage in the area caused by a lack of affordable housing.
While the school board can now request the permits, they are still determining the plan’s details — including how much it will cost, how it will be funded, and when the project will be completed.
Fehrman emphasized during the meeting that the priority is getting the permits to the city of Decatur, then the board will make decisions about the funding and timeline.
“We want to go ahead and apply for these permits, see if we can get these approved, and then once those are either approved or not, we can move forward with deciding … the next step for these properties.”
Read the original story on AJC.com.