KPCW , July 12, 2022--The South Summit School District is considering a two-acre parcel of land near the district offices in Kamas as a potential site to build employee housing.

The South Summit School District recently met with county and city leaders from Kamas, Oakley, and Francis to look at opportunities to build moderate-income housing for district employees.

The district asked the Mountainlands Community Housing Trust to evaluate property it owns as potential moderate-income housing sites.

South Summit School District Superintendent Greg Maughan said there’s a particular parcel with potential, but it would need to be re-zoned to allow housing.

"The property that seems to be the one that makes the most sense is the property that's just directly north of the school district office. It's kind of a shared property with the district office," Maughan said. "It's a couple of acres. And so, from there, they had several different overlays of different options, everything from single-family dwellings to townhomes to duplexes."

Mountainlands Community Housing Trust Executive Director Pat Matheson said about 80 district employees responded to a housing survey. Half of them, he said, are long-time employees and residents of the Kamas Valley. The other half are younger employees, mostly renters, who travel farther to get to work.

Now that the school district has the report, it can move ahead.

"The likely scenario being that the school district could try and find some sort of development partner to create the housing on a piece of land that they own," Matheson said, "and [the school district] would lease on a long-term affordable basis to the housing developer and eventual tenants or homeowners."

Matheson said the property could hold 18 units.

He said the most critical piece of making a project affordable is the cost of the land. To offset costs, Mountainlands recommended the school district lease the land to development partners for a nominal fee.

"You're essentially removing the land cost out of the equation. With where construction prices are right now,” Matheson said, “it'd be extremely tough even with free land to be able to provide homes at a price that's affordable to school district employees."

The district may be able to get fee waivers from local municipalities and launch other fundraising efforts to keep prices down and make the homes affordable.

"There are opportunities for fundraising. There are certainly a lot of active philanthropists and foundations, and Matheson said, even business groups the school district could approach to help subsidize some costs."

Matheson said there are ways to make homeownership affordable for employees. For example, he said, if the district were to sell the homes instead of leasing them, federally subsidized loans could help offset mortgage rate increases for buyers.

Matheson said, "By combining a number of these different things, you can certainly reach a price point that's affordable to an educator."

With the housing crisis, Maughan said school districts have had to get into the rental business out of necessity. New hires will need affordable places to live as older employees retire from South Summit School District.