Whether the problem is high cost of living or a dangerous neighborhood, many schools across the country struggle to staff classrooms. As rumor spreads of an impending teacher shortage, these school districts are considering building or buying rent-subsidized apartments to retain and attract teachers.
Housing costs have become a huge problem for teachers in expensive cities like San Francisco and Seattle. Esmeralda Jiménez, a 26-year-old first grade teacher in San Francisco, lives in one of the sketchiest parts of the city – yet her rent is still a hefty 43% of her salary ($1,783 per month) and she can’t afford a car.
And rent isn’t the only problem. Although she would like to spend more time at school, Jiménez must get home before dark. “If I lived in a better area, I wouldn’t feel so scared going home and I would be able to stay at school a little longer,” she explains. “You have so many things to do to prep for the next day, but it’s gotten to the point where even if I leave at a decent time I will walk three blocks out of my way to avoid some streets.”
Public officials in San Francisco and other cities are considering using subsidized housing to prevent an exodus of young teachers like Jiménez as they consider switching to other professions.
San Francisco plans to erect up to 100 new apartments on land already owned by the San Francisco Unified School District. The apartments would be rented only to teachers and classroom aides. These individuals would also be eligible for home down payment loans and new rental housing allowances. “Each of these ideas would reach some modest number, but in aggregate it would hopefully make a difference,” says Deputy Superintendent Nyong Leigh.
The Roaring Fork school district in Colorado has similar plans, hoping to purchase 15-20 apartments in each of the three towns it serves. This would house at least 10% of its teachers. In the posh ski resort area, housing costs are “without a doubt the number one reason we lose teachers and it’s the number one reason people turn down jobs,” says Assistant Superintendent Shannon Pelland.
“Our typical pattern with teachers is they come to the valley, it’s an absolutely beautiful place, it’s a great lifestyle with wonderful recreational opportunities, and they are willing to live with roommates and do whatever they have to do to make it work for four or five years. And right at that five-year mark we see a lot of them saying, ‘This was great for a while, but I’ll never be able to afford a home here or make it work here, I’m moving on,'” says Pelland.
There are more benefits to teachers-only housing than low rent, explains kindergarten teacher Katy Howser: “Everyone has the same common courtesy for each other. There are technically quiet hours, but it’s not ever really loud. Everyone just wants to come home and be quiet because we have to be loud all day.” Katy lives in a teachers-only complex in Santa Clara California.
“The fact that our district sees enough value in us teachers to make a way to us to be here says a lot,” she says. “It tends to be a relatively thankless job, and if you can’t afford to live, you can’t afford to stay.”
Similar housing projects for teachers are in the works in Milwaukee, Oakland, Texas, Odessa, and Asheville.