- A growing number of companies and school districts are building affordable housing for teachers, who often find it difficult to make rent in major cities.
- In San Jose, California, a proposal to build low-cost teacher housing has incited a backlash, resulting in an online petition with thousands of signatures.
- Research suggests that investing in teachers could reduce expensive turnover and benefit local communities.
Elizabeth Keleshian graduated college ready to take on a career as an educator. Five years later, she’s abandoned that dream and transitioned to data science.
What happened in the interim might sound familiar to teachers across major cities in the US.
Keleshian secured a job at Alta Vista, a private school in San Francisco. The job provided a hefty salary compared to other Bay Area schools, and gave her plenty of autonomy. (Keleshian didn’t reveal what she earned, but the average teacher salary in the San Francisco Unified School District is $US65,000. The median rent is $US42,000 a year.)
The US government defines “cost-burdened” households as those spending 30% or more of their income on housing. In Elizabeth’s case, over half of her paycheck was going to housing.
Even with a decent income, Keleshian felt she couldn’t afford the steep rents in San Francisco, which has become one of the world’s most expensive places to live.
“There was no support on the administration’s side to help us find housing,” she said. “We were on our own.”
Low-cost teacher housing is a national trend
In recent years, school districts have attempted to remedy this problem by building affordable rental units for teachers and other school workers.
One notable example is Casa Del Maestros, an apartment complex built for teachers by California’s Santa Clara School District in 2001. The complex now includes around 70 apartments with rents ranging from $US1,200 to $US1,900 a month.
There’s a lottery to receive a unit, but those accepted are eligible to stay for seven years. In October, CityLab reported that the complex had helped to reduce turnover rates for the school district.
A few Colorado school districts have attempted to follow suit by converting vacant units into affordable homes for their employees. Both Miami and Durham, North Carolina, are also floating proposals to build teacher housing near elementary and middle schools.
Near Tuscon, Arizona, the Vail School District is even planning to build a community of tiny homes for educators.
There’s also support from local companies and real estate groups.
In Newark, New Jersey, the real estate firm RBH Group pioneered a $US150 million multi-use development, with 70% of its housing units occupied by educators, who receive a discounted rate.
The company’s CEO, Ron Beit, recognised the benefits of investing in teachers, whom he saw as key contributors to the economic and social fabric of a community. His company plans to unveil similar developments in Chicago and Hartford, Connecticut.
Residents fear for their neighbourhoods
Not all neighbours are thrilled by the idea of teachers moving in nearby.
In San Jose, members of the residential neighbourhood Almaden Valley started a petition to lobby against their district’s proposal to make room for low-cost employee housing by relocating two schools: Leland High School and Bret Harte Middle School.
Residents had all sorts of motivations for axing the proposal. In the comments section of the petition, some lamented that new housing projects had “degraded” the quality of life in their neighbourhood. Others were eager to preserve the structures they know and love.
Many referred to the idea as a waste of taxpayer dollars. But a few who opposed the project still claimed to be on the teachers’ side.
“[San Jose Unified School District] should increase teacher salaries to afford rent, not become a landlord,” one person commented on the petition, which has more than 6,400 signatures.
Even if she had received a raise, Keleshian estimated that it would come out to an additional $US200 to $US300 a month, which she said wouldn’t be much help in the way of rent.
“A raise is not significant enough, usually, to help teachers get off their feet,” she said. “With housing support, at least that’s something concrete and guaranteed.”
Educators are worth the investment
Providing teachers with an affordable place to live can benefit schools as well.
According to Keleshian, even the most passionate educators become jaded when they realise how difficult the lifestyle can be. At Alta Vista, she said, the majority of her coworkers had at least a 50-minute daily commute from their homes located outside the city.
“There’s a lot of talent leaving,” she said. “It’s pretty worrisome when talented teachers aren’t motivated enough to stick with it.”
By reducing the financial burden of housing, schools can allow teachers to live near the workplace and improve their overall quality of life.
Encouraging teachers to stick around could also save money. A 2014 report from the Alliance for Excellent Education found that teacher attrition costs the United States around $US2.2 billion a year.
But when teachers aren’t welcomed by their neighbours, support from the school district might not be enough.
“It’s been hard for our teachers to hear [the outcry] because their reaction is, ‘I’m a person who works with your kid every day – you trust me with your student in my classroom but I’m not good enough to be your neighbour?'” the deputy superintendent for the San Jose Unified School District told CityLab last year.
An academic counselor at a San Jose middle school expressed a similar sentiment to the New York Times.
“Families trust us with their kids from 8 to 3 every day,” he said. “I don’t know why it wouldn’t be the case that they would trust us in their communities.”
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