Fairfield County School District might just have the answer to workforce housing
Veronica Thomas commutes to work. She doesn’t particularly like doing so. Every day, she makes the half-hour– “on a good day” – drive from Columbia to her classroom in Winnsboro, SC.
She likes Winnsboro. She does. She teaches adult education at the Fairfield County School District and is on the board of the FCSD Education Foundation. The problem she has is that she can’t afford to live where she works.
“Affordable housing in Fairfield County is almost nonexistent,” says Tangee Brice-Jacobs, a real estate agent based in Blair. “Even when the market was great to buy, there was no housing in Fairfield.”
That’s not much of an exaggeration. A cursory browse through multiple real estate listing websites Thursday yielded exactly two residences to rent in Fairfield County – both houses, both two-bath. The four-bedroom house is asking $1,800 per month rent; two-bedroom cottage is asking $4,200.
Nearby houses for rent, in Camden, Blytherwood, and Irmo were in almost exactly the same price range – all five of them.
Given that teachers in South Carolina’s public school districts mostly make between $42,500 and $62,696 in their first 10 years, monthly rents in the four-digit range are not easy to meet. In May, the National Council on Teacher Quality published a report on rent burden among U.S. teachers. While that report concentrated on metro areas, NCTQ found that, regardless of where they work, teachers who live far from their districts don’t tend to stay around for long.
“The issue is, how do we keep the people that we have?” asks Fairfield County Schools Superintendent J.R. Green. “Yes, we are able to recruit people, but if they have stable housing, they are much more likely to stay with us.”
And that word – stability – is the heart of a project called the Village.
The Village is the first project of its kind in South Carolina – a 22-acre housing site, on FCSD property, on which 16 three-bedroom, two-bath homes will go. These homes – built with a $600,000 investment by the United Way of the Midlands – will be administered through the FCSD Education Foundation and rented exclusively to certified district teachers and, later, FCSD workers at below market rate. Monthly rent will start at $700 per month or $900 per month, according to Sue Rex, chair of the FCSD Education Foundation.
The United Way funds come from a $10 million grant UW-Midlands received in 2020 from billionaire philanthropist (and former Mrs. Jeff Bezos) McKenzie Scott.
“Our engagement with Fairfield County goes back many, many years,” says Sara Fawcett, president and CEO of UW-Midlands. “And specifically with the Fairfield County School District."
The 16 homes are Phase One and are expected to open next summer to renters. Phase Two is expected to expand the footprint to 30 homes. Green says “the 22 acres of land can be developed for up to about 70 homes.”
Officials like Green and Rex say they want to see the Village become a model for other school districts in the U.S., particularly those in rural communities like Winnsboro.
“We think that this is going to be a very, very effective mechanism to make that happen,” Green says.