Michigan teachers cash in on Battle Creek housing incentives

By Noe Hernandez

Battle Creek Enquirer

BATTLE CREEK (AP) - Shelley Samples could have earned $25,000 more in salary this school year teaching for Waterford schools.

But she turned her back on that for a chance to live in Battle Creek, closer to her daughter and grandchildren.

Her new employer, Battle Creek Public Schools, softened the financial blow by giving her $10,000 to help buy a home. Samples, a special education teacher at Battle Creek Central High School, might even get another $10,000 in matching funds to remodel her kitchen and bathroom.

"I absolutely love it," she said of her new home on Eaton Street. "It's got a fenced-in back yard, sidewalks, amazing neighbors, and it's a quiet, friendly community."

The city of Battle Creek received a $1.5 million grant last year from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to provide support for entrepreneurs and to strengthen struggling neighborhoods.

The grant included $750,000 for a housing incentive program for BCPS teachers and central office and building administrators who commit to the district for three years and want to live in eligible neighborhoods, most of them on the north end of town.

The city had initially planned to give no-interest loans of up to $3,000 for down payments or closings and up to $12,000 for renovations. But changed the terms and amounts after meeting with the district.

The updated program, designed to attract teachers to live in neighborhoods within the district, now provides up to 20 percent of a home's value - or a maximum of $10,000 - for down payment assistance, closing costs or for mortgage buy-downs to reduce monthly mortgage expense.

The program also provides an incentive of up to $10,000 in matching funds to teachers and administrators buying homes and for those already living in the district who want to make improvements to their existing homes.

So far, 19 teachers and five administrators have inquired about the program and 18 have applied to purchase or renovate a home, said Chris Lussier, the city's community development manager. Fourteen teachers or administrators have applied to buy a home, while four have applied for matching funds to renovate their homes.

"The housing incentive is very important because everyone benefits when teachers and administrators live in the communities where they work," Anita Harvey, director of district transformation, told the Battle Creek Enquirer. "It creates a closer-knit community where we all can play an integral part of the community and (be) invested in the community."

Samples and six other teachers have already received down payment assistance. Two other teachers have received money to renovate their homes.

The city is contracting all of the renovation work, including writing work specifications, preparing bid packages, hiring contractors, inspecting workmanship, processing payments and maintaining records for two mains reasons: because city workers already do that type of work and to help the teachers manage the projects financially.

The program ends on May 30, 2020.

Lussier said the city benefits when teachers live in city neighborhoods. It's also a great benefit, he said, when more people buy homes in city neighborhoods and move closer to the downtown.

"It's going great," Lussier said. "The goal was to create meaningful incentives for Battle Creek teachers, and I think we've done that.

"We've got a lot of teachers that are taking advantage of this program, and it's also successfully attracting teachers to buy and, in some cases, to renovate homes in Battle Creek neighborhoods," he added.

LaVon Hunt, a prekindergarten teacher, found out about the renovation incentive on her birthday. She applied for the money the next day.

She and her husband, Denny Hunt, are investing $33,000 this year to renovate their home on East Avenue. LaVon Hunt said she'll now forgo her plans to retire in two years and stick around for a third.

"I told my husband, I just got a $10,000 birthday gift," she said.

Over the past 23 years, the Hunts have spent more than $50,000 on their home, renovating their kitchen and dining room, adding a hardwood floor to the kitchen. They've also added new siding, windows, roof and remodeled the upstairs.

But there was still a need for outdoor renovations.

Thanks to the housing incentive, they'll widen their driveway, replace sidewalks and crumbling steps, regrade their back yard for drainage purposes and install retaining walls.

The driveway alone cost them $17,000, the retaining walls another $7,000.

"I feel very blessed. I sort of feel like it dropped out of heaven," Hunt said. "The Kellogg Foundation is helping our district and, in essence, our city."

Published: Thu, Nov 08, 2018

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