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Half-price homes bid to attract teachers;Briefing;International

United States. TEACHERS are been given the first pick of heavily-discounted housing in a bid to lure them to work in both wealthy and impoverished areas.

The initiatives at the either endboth of the economic spectrum show how difficult it is becoming to recruit teachers into areas where the cost of living is very high, or where salaries and support are very low.

The idea, which is being lauded as an innovative solution to the problem, is seen as early evidence of a long-predicted American teacher shortage.

The most extensive of measure is the national Teacher Next Door campaign, which gives full-time teachers the chance to buy houses in poorer areas at 50 per cent of their market value. Buyers are required to live in the homes for at least three years.

Modelled on a similar programme for police officers, the plan is also meant to persuade teachers and their families to live in the communities where they work - generally impoverished inner-cities.

Andrew Cuomo, US secretary of housing and urban development, said: "When we help teachers save money on homes in poor neighbourhoods, we help revitalise those neighbourhoods. The Teacher Next Door initiative should attract teachers to live and work in urban school districts where they are needed most, and will give them opportunities to mentor their students outside the classroom."

The offer takes effect this month. The police programme - called Officer Next Door - has attracted more than 2,700 police officers to half-price homes in low-income neighbourhoods since 1997.

The idea is also designed to narrow the home ownership gap between America's cities and suburbs. While 74 per cent of suburban residents own their own homes, only about half of urban residents do so.

About 6,000 homes in designated revitalisation areas will be available through the Teacher Next Door programme nationwide. All were taken over by the government when their owners defaulted on their mortgages.

Local governments or school districts also will be allowed to buy these homes and sell them directly to teachers.

Some prosperous American school districts also are offering subsidised homes to teachers. In pricey Los Alamos, New Mexico, for example, the school board voted to sell surplus land for residential development on the condition that 25 per cent of the planned affordable housing planned be offered first to teachers and administrators.

Even though the schools offer higher-than-normal salaries, the cost of living in Los Alamos is 70 per cent above than the national average, making it difficult to attract and retain teachers. Even a top candidate for superintendent of schools withdrew because of house prices.

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