Aug 22, 2023 - Education

High housing costs challenge Portland teachers

Where teachers can't afford to own a home
Data: National Council on Teacher Quality; Note: Salary estimated for teachers with a bachelor's degree and 15 years of experience in each area's largest school district. Homeowner cost estimate includes mortgage, fees and utilities; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Portland teachers who are homeowners spend about 44% of their income on housing costs, according to research by the nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality.

  • Portland Public Schools also ranked second-least affordable in the country for new teachers looking to rent a one-bedroom apartment last year, according to the same study.

Why it matters: Teachers who can't afford to live where they work say it lowers morale and heightens burnout.

What they're saying: "I would really love to buy a home and I just don't think it's going to be possible," Melissa Blount, a librarian for Portland Public Schools who moved here from Florida six years ago, tells Axios.

  • Her three-person family has relied on just her paycheck for several years, and about half of her net income goes to rent, Blount estimates.
  • Affordable neighborhoods would make her commute untenable, she says.

Separately, Magdalena Muñoz-Rivas, who has taught in Portland and Forest Grove, followed her mother into teaching, but wants to avoid her mother's yearslong struggle to find an affordable home.

  • Muñoz-Rivas' father keeps telling her to buy a house so she can build up equity, but she can't imagine having the means.
  • And renting has drawbacks; her current home doesn't have air conditioning or a yard for her pets. "I'd have the freedom to do whatever I wanted in my house," Muñoz-Rivas tells Axios.

The big picture: Some other districts are experimenting with building housing for educators.

  • San Francisco's school district is building one teacher housing project with a nonprofit developer and considering another.
  • The Austin Independent School District is looking for development partners to build and manage two teacher housing complexes on unused district land within the year.

Zoom in: PPS has no specific support in place for teacher housing, according to Portland Association of Teachers president Angela Bonilla.

  • Some national companies help with teachers' house-buying costs — but they usually come with restrictions such as a limited choice of lenders.
  • One company that set up shop here four years ago with the intent to help teachers buy houses now runs down payment programs for any employers that want to invest in a homebuying program for staff, but isn't operating in Portland, co-founder Alex Lofton tells Axios.

Zoom out: Elsewhere in Oregon, the tiny district of Monument built a two-bedroom home this year to help recruit staff.

  • The rural teacher support organization that helped fund that project tells Axios it's repeating the experiment with a similar grant to build three apartments for teachers in Enterprise, Oregon.

What we're watching: Negotiations between teachers and PPS are likely to heat up as school gets back in session.

  • The union has so far included support for teachers who are first-time homebuyers, as well as housing support for at-risk families with PPS students, among its bargaining positions.
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