Bay Area school districts get into homebuilding as teachers remain priced out
In a desperate effort to combat a chronic teacher shortage and a housing affordability crunch, school districts throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as nationwide, are getting into a new industry: homebuilding.
Why it matters: On their salaries, many teachers simply can't afford to live where they work, which can have repercussions on the quality of students' education and lead to burnout, National Education Association President Becky Pringle told Axios.
What's happening: Districts across the country are betting on various models of constructing housing with below-market rents, often leveraging tax-free, district-owned land.
- San Francisco Unified School District is building a teacher housing project with a nonprofit developer and considering another.
- Several other Bay Area jurisdictions are also taking similar steps, including Palo Alto, Los Gatos, San Mateo County and Oakland.
- Yes, but: Rent for a one-bedroom costs up to 47% of a teacher's gross starting salary on average.
What they're saying: "Rent in the Bay Area is just absurd," educator Elizabeth Sharkey, who is based in Los Gatos, told Axios San Francisco. "You're not able to save any money if you're paying 50% of your income in rent — you're barely scraping by."
- Most Los Gatos teachers live at least an hour away from their schools, Sharkey noted — a trend that's common in the Bay.
Zoom in: This year, Sharkey became one of the first teachers to move into a new housing complex built in partnership with a nonprofit, which she called a game-changer.
- The unit, which includes two bedrooms and a washer and dryer, has enabled a sense of stability for Sharkey, who noted that her previous commutes were often at the whim of weather events.
- Teachers would travel with clothing and toiletries in case they had to couch-surf due to road closures, Sharkey said.
- She doesn't have that anxiety anymore. The complex is "a mile-and-a-half from where I work, from my school, so I can walk to school," Sharkey added.
- It makes it possible for kids to see their teachers "taking interest in their lives outside of the classroom."
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.
- "If you can increase their salaries, then teachers can afford to get into the housing market," she pointed out. And then, they'll be more likely to stay.
Reality check: Although each district's situation is different, the root of the housing problem lies in chronic undercompensation of teachers, said Pringle with the NEA.
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