Innovative Housing Project Centers Teachers in Local Community

June 1, 2023

The Fulcrum-funded Innovative Housing Project at St. Alphonsus Parish in Ballard will welcome its first cohort this summer, providing affordable housing to Catholic school teachers in an increasingly high cost of living area. 

“The Innovative Housing Project meets two critical needs facing the Archdiocese of Seattle,” said Lizzy Scholz, the pastoral assistant for administration at St. Alphonsus Parish. “The first is the need for adults, especially young adults, to build community. Teaching is a tough career! Living with people going through the same struggles, especially in the early years of teaching, is so beneficial. The second is how difficult it is to pay teachers who want to work in our Catholic schools a competitive rate of pay. The Innovative Housing Project allows us to provide more affordable housing as a way to level the field.” 

The program, which has been four years in the making, takes some of the financial burden off local Catholic school teachers by providing an affordable place to live. Accepted applicants will live in community, allowing young teachers to grow together spiritually and professionally.  

“The U.S. Surgeon General recently came out and said that loneliness and lack of connection is a major public health crisis,” said Nick Padrnos, principal of St. Alphonsus Parish School. “Community, especially in this day and age, doesn’t happen by accident. It must be intentional. This project anchors young adults to a definite place with a definite purpose. I see this as an incubator, not just for well-formed educators, but also for deeply connected and committed human beings.” 

The program currently has space for nine teachers who will be provided with personal apartments as well as communal living spaces, including a garden, courtyard, and chapel. Participants in the program will receive a one-year lease. Teachers will live in the repurposed convent for the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) sisters at St. Alphonsus. In 2021, the SOLT sisters decided to leave the convent, giving the parish and the archdiocese a chance to find a new purpose for the building.  

“Transitioning the convent to being a part of the Innovative Housing Project is a perfect fit, because not only do we have a great facility, but Ballard is a very desirable community to live in, and therefore very expensive.  It can make it difficult for staff to afford even a simple apartment.  Our convent would allow each tenant to have access to a basic apartment, as well as a lot of communal space for cooking, gardening, and indoor and outdoor gatherings,” said Lizzy. 

“St. Alphonsus has been a stronghold in the archdiocese and Ballard community since 1907,” Nick added. “To last 100+ years means you have to be adaptive and respond to the signs of the times. We’re a small community, but have lots of young families who are attracted to the energy and mission here. The reality is, we don’t have the nuns and other religious groups running our schools and occupying our living spaces. It’s a wonderful opportunity for this St. Al’s community to witness to these young adults about what family life, devotion, and kinship looks like.” 

The Innovative Housing Project was, in part, modeled after programs like the Alliance for Catholic Schools (ACE) program at the University of Notre Dame and the Pacific Alliance for Catholic Education (PACE) program at the University of Portland. PACE, which has placed teachers in Catholic schools here in Western Washington, provides housing for young teachers committed to living in community as they work towards their master’s degrees. The program has a proven track-record of success building future educators and leaders within the Catholic school system. 

While teachers in the Innovative Housing Program are not tied to a master’s program, they are expected to engage with one another and participate in community-building activities. The Fulcrum Foundation provided $30,000 in funding to support upgrades to the facility and community programming run by the Office for Catholic Schools. 

“I am excited to have St. Alphonsus be at the forefront of this initiative, especially moving into Partners in the Gospel. This project will allow us to better utilize our buildings, provide a service to not only the St. Alphonsus community, but the Archdiocese of Seattle as a whole, and allow us all to build connections with our neighboring parishes and schools,” said Lizzy. “I’d love to see a full house with teachers not only from St. Alphonsus, but also our neighboring K-8 schools and high schools. It will be an incredible way for these teachers to grow into their careers and build relationships with others who may soon be in their parish families.” 

“During my first teaching gig, I lived in an old convent with 7 other teachers through Notre Dame’s ACE program,” Nick said. “That experience is what’s kept me in the field and wanting to serve. To have that sort of intentional community in our backyard is tremendous because of the ripple effect. The zeal of the residents will spill over into ministry and engagement in our church and school. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit at work.”