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1:43 pm
Thu July 4, 2013

New Housing Project In Philadelphia Aims To Attract Teachers

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 6:58 pm

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Time spent among people who do the same kind of work can boost morale, sharpen creativity, just go to a conference or a retreat. So some people involved in education thought how about giving teachers a place where are a lot of them can live under one roof. They're trying that in Philadelphia.

Here's Elizabeth Fiedler of member station WHYY.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

ELIZABETH FIEDLER, BYLINE: Oxford Mills isn't much to look at right now. Just old brick walls and a lot of construction workers cutting, drilling and fixing brick work.

GABE CANUSO: We're standing in one of two buildings that were built starting around 1875 and was the home of the Quaker City Dye Works.

FIEDLER: That's Gabe Canuso, Oxford Mills' Philadelphia developer. In about a year, he hopes the old brick buildings will be full of residents. There will be about 114 apartments, and 60 percent of the units will be reserved for a very select group: teachers. Philadelphia teachers at public, private, parochial and charter schools will be eligible to move in. And to sweeten the deal, Canuso says the teachers will get a 25 percent discount on rent.

CANUSO: And we thought that, like, passing that on would help support the industry, help attract and retain good teachers to the city of Philadelphia and help with the city's efforts to improve education in the region.

FIEDLER: Canuso is hoping to replicate a teacher-focused housing experiment that's seen success in Baltimore. That project's developer Donald Manekin's original idea was born out of an observation.

DONALD MANEKIN: Having been on the board of Teach for America, you know, they bring in 100 new corps members in a year, and, you know, we'd sit at the end of these board meetings and say wouldn't it be great if there was a great place to live for teachers new to the city.

FIEDLER: So with his company, Seawall Development, Manekin set out to create a great place for teachers to live. They turned two old mill buildings into apartments for teachers. Manekin says teachers say living in a community of educators helps them celebrate after good days. And he says teachers say...

MANEKIN: When I've had one of those days I couldn't get the kids to do anything, I've got 75 other teachers who've probably had a similar experience that can help me garner the support I need to be able to get up the next day and go and do this really important work.

FIEDLER: Baltimore teacher Zaid Abuhouran says he's benefited from living among other educators, including his neighbor.

ZAID ABUHOURAN: She's come over to my apartment often and just had a cup of tea and discussed classroom management strategies, how she teaches her class.

FIEDLER: But this isn't the first time someone thought to construct teacher housing. In at least one case, the San Francisco teachers union president says educators there were turned off by the idea of going home from work only to be surrounded by more teachers. Donald Manekin says in Baltimore, the teachers like living together. He hopes Philadelphia teachers will too. And that they'll enjoy amenities like the teachers in Baltimore do, including a cafe and a fitness center.

MANEKIN: Then you've got these incredible sort of courtyard areas that are just hangout places, and so, you know, we will use them for events to be able to get - bring the teachers together, you know, keg parties on Friday afternoons.

FIEDLER: These are difficult times for many Philadelphia teachers with the public school system struggling through layoffs and school closures. School District Superintendent William Hite says he hopes this project will help free teachers from feeling isolated or burdened by financial concerns. He calls it an investment in the future of education.

For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Fiedler in Philadelphia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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