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'I've been homeless:' Durham proposal submitted to build affordable housing for public school teachers

A progressive proposal in Durham is proposing building affordable apartments reserved for Durham public school teachers.

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DURHAM, N.C. — Some public school teachers say it's hard to do their job to the best of their ability when they're worrying about how to afford a roof over their heads. A progressive proposal in Durham asks to build affordable apartments reserved for the city’s public school teachers.

With starting pay for teachers around $35,000 a year and little opportunity to increase their salaries, many say it is difficult to find anything affordable that is safe and comfortable.

In her fifth year of teaching, Katrina Barnes says she struggles daily to make ends meet. She says for a single mom of three, paying rent is a strain and not long ago, it was impossible.

"I am definitely stretching to make it work," Barnes said. "As a teacher, I've actually been homeless, which is part of the reason that I wanted to do this. I was homeless for three years, and I've still worked. But no one ever knew."

In 2013, she lost her house. Then, couldn't even afford her storage unit fee.

"I really lost everything. I had a house originally. My washer, my washer, my dryer. I lost all of those things," she said.

Barnes was lucky she and her kids could live with a cousin. Teachers having difficulty paying rent is not a unique problem.

Ashley Smalls is a science teacher at the City of Medicine Academy. She's getting a little more than the typical starting salary of $35,000, but with rent and student loans, she had to take on a weekend job, meaning she works seven days a week.

"It's nonstop. It's a struggle," she said.

Some teachers said if the proposed affordable housing happens, they can focus more on their students, rather than their finances.

"More teachers are silent about it than they really know. Because when you're a professional, you're expected to show up every day. You're expected to work every day. This is not something that's really addressed,” Barnes said.

The development would be a partnership between the State Employees Credit Union, a nonprofit called CASA, and Durham Public Schools.


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