Affordable Housing For Public Servants

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

COVID-19 changed our world in many ways. We had no idea which direction the pandemic would go, where there would be more outbreaks, or how bad it would become. The education landscape changed, just as society changed.

As we faced an unknown future, we reflected more critically about how to succeed in life and public education during changing and challenging times, through a global pandemic that came without warning. We needed leaders who could step up in the face of adversity and adapt to new situations and circumstances.

We found many of them with our police and corrections officers, firefighters, EMTs, and PreK-12 teachers.  But we understand all Americans faced incredible difficulties and met tough challenges head-on.  

Our nation’s first responders have demonstrated their unwavering commitment to their communities across the nation. Even amidst a deadly pandemic, these heroes have served without hesitation.

Because of this, we believe police and corrections officers, firefighters, EMTs, and PreK-12 teachers have earned access to affordable housing so that they can continue to provide for their families and serve their communities. That is what makes surrounding communities so appealing, and more desirable for work and living.   

In many urban cities, like Nashville, there is an affordable housing shortage. Roughly half of the residents in Nashville are housing cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.  In Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that teachers can only afford 54 percent of homes in Atlanta and firefighters only 36 percent.  It is unsustainable, both in the short-term and the long-term.  Which means public servants cannot afford to live in the communities they serve. 

We know that most local school districts undertook incredible work across the state and nation.  That work likely will be with less-skilled employees in the future if we do not move to address housing affordability and other issues.  

There is a looming teacher shortage nationally. In Tennessee, there are over 10,000 eligible to retire within the next two years.  This would be a huge benefit for incoming educators.  Frequently, educators, struggle to afford their first home. 

These servants are not looking for handouts, but solutions.  That is Professional Educators of Tennessee is supporting a federal, bi-partisan, HELPER Act that would amend the National Housing Act to establish a mortgage program through the Federal Housing Authority specifically for first responders, law enforcement, and educators.

The bipartisan HELPER Act would honor police and corrections officers, firefighters, EMTs, and PreK-12 teachers by providing a federal home loan program similar to the popular VA home loan program available to our nation’s veterans.

The HELPER Act was introduced by U.S. Reps. John H. Rutherford, Al Lawson, John Katko, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and other co-sponsors. U.S. Senators Jon Ossoff and Marco Rubio are carrying this needed legislation in the Senate. 

As Samuel Royer pointed out in the Orlando Sentinel: “Not only does this legislation meaningfully benefit interested homebuyers, but it would also be low-risk for the federal government; loss only occurs if the homebuyer defaults into foreclosure. Because first responders are employed in stable, often career-lasting jobs, the odds of this happening are minimal. In fact, the FHA could ultimately save on annual foreclosure costs through the HELPER Act.”

In an era where policymakers see no benefit to working across party lines, the HELPER Act is an opportunity for all lawmakers to join forces on something that should be relatively noncontroversial.  It’s time to lay aside what Clare Malone calls “partisanship’s brittle paradigm” and accomplish something that will benefit the public. 

We urge support for the HELPER Act.  It is time our police and corrections officers, firefighters, EMTs, and PreK-12 teachers can afford to live in the communities they serve.

JC Bowman
CEO and Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee


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