Aug 16, 2023 - Education

Why San Antonio could help teachers buy homes

Illustration of a door knocker in the shape of a dollar sign

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In a desperate effort to combat a chronic teacher shortage, school districts across the country are focusing on housing.

Why it matters: Many teachers simply can't afford to live where they work, which can have repercussions for the quality of students' education, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, told Axios.

  • Pringle, a former teacher, said those forced to commute for hours aren't spending as much time with students and are more prone to burnout.

What's happening: In San Antonio, East Side Councilmember and former teacher Jalen McKee-Rodriguez recently proposed starting a teacher homebuyer assistance program.

Details: The program would offer no-interest, forgivable loans equal to a teacher's annual salary to help cover a down payment and closing costs.

  • Teachers would have to buy a home within city limits.
  • Early childhood instructors and public school support staff could also benefit.

By the numbers: The annual cost of owning a home in San Antonio is 31.5% of an experienced teacher's salary, per data from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

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

State of play: Some San Antonio districts are struggling with teacher vacancies as many schools started this week.

  • Northside ISD, the city's largest district, has 200 teacher vacancies, about 3% of their staff, NEWS 4 reported.
  • North East ISD also has about a 3% vacancy rate, with 125 openings. Edgewood ISD has 26 vacancies, about 5% of their staff, also per NEWS 4.

What they're saying: "As school districts search for ways to recruit new teachers and incentivize retention of experienced teachers, the city of San Antonio has an opportunity to remove barriers to homeownership," McKee-Rodriguez said in a statement.

Zoom out: Teachers in Washington, D.C., have had access to a down payment assistance program since 2019. Louisiana just started one for teachers and first responders.

What's next: Program details could change as the proposal moves forward. Mayor Ron Nirenberg must send McKee-Rodriguez's request to a committee for initial discussion before more councilmembers weigh in.

Other districts in Texas are tackling the problem from a new angle: homebuilding.

Zoom in: Districts with affordability problems are betting on various models of constructing housing with below-market rents, often leveraging tax-free, district-owned land.

  • Austin ISD is looking for development partners to build and manage two teacher housing complexes on unused district land within the year.

Reality check: Although each district's situation is different, the root of the housing problem lies in chronic under-compensation of teachers, said Pringle with the NEA.

  • Teachers need three times as long as the average U.S. household to save for a 20% down payment, the NCTQ found.

The other side: Jeremy Striffler, the director of real estate at Austin ISD, said the district is going into a deficit to cover a recent compensation increase, and it can't raise pay more until lawmakers change the state's student funding formula.

  • So Austin has been left to think, "What else can we do?" he told Axios. "It's not in lieu of increasing compensation, it's in parallel."

Threat level: The affordability problem disproportionately affects teachers of color, who are more likely to have student debt.

The big picture: "When teachers can't afford to live in the communities where they teach … that cost can be considerable," NCTQ president Heather Peske told Axios. It "threatens the teacher pipeline" and contributes to turnover, she said.


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