School Districts Seek Solutions to Help Educators Find Affordable Housing
In New Mexico, teachers are leaving jobs they love after just a year because they can’t pay for housing.
In California, districts are asking families to shelter teachers who can’t afford high rents.
In Alaska, teachers are living in their classrooms.
There’s an affordable housing crisis across the country, and educators are right in the middle of it.
With average housing prices and rental rates continuing to skyrocket and teachers’ wages failing to keep pace with inflation, many districts face shortages as would-be hires turn down jobs because they can’t find a place to live.
According to The Zebra, the average home price in 2022 in the U.S. is $348,079. That’s up 29 percent since the pandemic began, representing a dramatic change in what economists have noted over the last 15 years.
“After recouping from the 2007-2009 Great Recession—when the housing market plummeted—the annual increase in home prices hovered between 3 percent and 5 percent,” wrote Susan Meyer in the Zebra article. “Once the pandemic hit, the yearly increase jumped into double digits—12 percent between 2020 and 2021 and 15 percent between 2021 and 2022.”
The Motley Fool, citing data from the Federal Reserve Bank, puts the national average even higher at $428,700.
Rental numbers reflect a similar increase. One-bedroom rentals average $1,721 per month, a 27 percent increase over last year, while two-bedroom units go for about $2,054, 23 percent more than 2021. Over 90 percent of markets saw an increase in rents over the last year.
What accounts for this jump in housing costs?
Once again, we can blame the pandemic.
“Mortgage rates fell significantly in 2020, driving up demand as homebuyers looked to take advantage. The pandemic also led to consumers shifting spending to housing and pushed more millennials toward homeownership,” according to the Motley Fool piece. “At the same time, homeowners have been reluctant to list their homes, and there’s a housing production shortfall. Housing supply shrunk through 2021, but housing inventory began to recover in 2022. This resulted in one of the biggest seller’s markets in history.”
The Teacher Wage Gap and Its Consequences
Meanwhile, teachers have dealt with a wage penalty since the 1990s. According to a study by the Economic Policy Institute, teachers earn significantly less than other workers with similar education and experience. That penalty hit a new high of 23.5 percent in 2021.
“Inflation-adjusted average weekly wages of teachers have been relatively flat since 1996… increasing just $29 over this period,” wrote study authors Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel. “Importantly, the benefits advantage for teachers, including employer costs for health insurance and retirement plans, is not enough to offset the growth of the teacher relative wage penalty.”
This penalty has far-reaching effects. It keeps qualified individuals from pursuing a career in teaching in the first place. It makes it harder for districts to retain good teachers. And, in increasingly expensive housing markets, it makes it next to impossible for teachers to live where they work.
Mary Ellen Flannery talked to teachers and administrators in Santa Fe, where the median price of single-family homes increased by 10 percent in the last year.
“How do you buy a $650,000 house when you get paid $40,000 a year?” Flannery wrote. “Santa Fe’s new teachers have no idea.”
According to Grace Mayer, the president of the Santa Fe chapter of the National Educators Association, many can’t. Half of Santa Fe teachers surveyed by the union said they might not come back next year, driven out by the high housing costs.
Some teachers in Dillingham, Alaska, are sleeping in their classrooms because housing is so scarce. Even the superintendent, Amy Brower, lived at the middle school for over a month before she found a permanent home. Brower said several candidates turned down opportunities to work for the district because they couldn’t find housing.
According to KDLG 670AM reporter Isabelle Ross, the price of houses in Alaska increased by 9 percent in 2021. And because many Alaskan towns are remote, the cost to transport everything—from building materials to cars—is exorbitant.
“Housing farther away from school could mean buying a car in Anchorage and barging it over,” Ross reported. “That would cost between $3,000 and $6,000. The shipping company Alaska Marine Lines quoted car shipments from Anchorage to Dillingham at anywhere from $3,200 to $5,600.”
‘It’s Just Not Possible’
One California district is asking families to offer up their spare rooms as a temporary solution to the problem.
In Milpitas, located at the southern tip of San Francisco Bay, the average rental goes for around $3,100 a month.
“We’ve lost out on some employees that we tried to recruit because once they see how much it costs to live here, they determine that it’s just not possible,” Milpitas Unified School District Superintendent Cheryl Jordan told NBC.
She said nearly three dozen families have signed up to rent out rooms to teachers. But that won’t solve the overarching issue.
Some districts and municipalities are working toward more permanent solutions, offering:
- reduced interest rates or special financing for teachers and municipal employees
- grants for closing costs, down payments, or mortgage insurance
- dedicated housing complexes for teachers
For Allegretto and Mishel, the answer is pretty simple: pay teachers more.
“As wages and compensation of teachers fall further behind that of other professionals, it becomes harder to attract students to and retain teachers in the profession,” they wrote in 2019. “These inequities must be addressed if we are to ensure that the brightest, most highly skilled professionals are at the head of each and every classroom and to retain experienced teachers in the mix.”