Hoke County July 2023


County Seat

Median Income

Population Density Designation

We’ve heard a lot about childhood well-being on the Extra Miles Tour. It’s a top priority in virtually every community across the state. In Hoke County, we visited an exciting project that reminded us how meeting the needs of children requires communities to meet the needs of the adults who serve them.

At one point in time, the county’s public school system was facing a significant challenge: The teacher turnover rate was as high as 40%. The lack of affordable, quality housing was a significant reason why. The area has very few options when it comes to rental housing stock. This wasn’t just a problem for school administrators. It was impacting the children they serve, as well.

Education is a fundamental driver of health, opening doorways to opportunities and careers, which in turn improve access to food, quality care, housing, transportation and other resources that are essential to good health. Frequent teacher turnover can disrupt the continuity of learning inside the classroom. It makes it difficult for faculty to forge nurturing relationships with the children they serve. It puts academic achievement and student well-being at risk.

We were welcomed in Raeford, NC by Jama Campbell, executive director for the State Employees Credit Union (SECU) Foundation, who was eager to share how a collaboration between Hoke County and the Foundation coalesced to address this challenge head-on. In 2010 the SECU Foundation partnered with the county’s Education Foundation to create Echo Ridge Apartments, a 24-unit, two-bedroom, workforce housing complex for teachers.

To get this ambitious project off the ground, the Foundation provided 15-year financing at 0% interest. When construction was complete, rental income started going toward repaying the loan. When the loan is eventually repaid, future rental income will go back into the school system. The apartment complex’s management highlighted the school system’s dedication to the project, providing resources needed for upkeep, including the labor for maintenance and service needs.

Access to rental housing stock at a rate that is affordable (and available) is especially important to teachers who are at the start of their careers. The apartments rent for $700 per month in a region where comparable apartments would rent for roughly $1,000.

Campbell mentioned that many teachers are recruited from outside of the county … many from outside the state. Echo Ridge is an important recruitment resource. Teachers interested in coming to Hoke can now afford to live and work in the county they serve. The management staff added that the apartments provide something else that’s enticing to teacher recruits: A sense of community. Moving to a new town to begin a career can provoke feelings of isolation and uncertainty. Living in Echo Ridge, teachers are surrounded by peers. This built-in sense of togetherness helps increase teacher retention.

For everyone on this leg of the Extra Miles Tour, having the opportunity to walk through one of the units was an exciting opportunity to see this work firsthand. As we gathered in the living room of the vacant apartment, Campbell explained that the partnership between the SECU Foundation and Hoke County Schools is a sustainable model. In fact, the SECU Foundation has pursued six similar projects across the state, and they want to do many more. To raise awareness and expand the impact of work like this, the SECU Foundation is partnering with the Golden LEAF Foundation to host an affordable housing conference later this year, which will bring together financiers and funders with the goal of educating stakeholders on opportunities to get involved.

Everyone on the Extra Miles Tour walked away from Echo Ridge Apartments recognizing the importance of replicating this success story in other parts of the state. Attracting and retaining quality teaching talent will put more children on the path toward success and help build the foundation communities need for good health and prosperity.

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U39702, 8/23