Aug 16, 2023 - Education

Tampa Bay teachers can't afford to live close to school

Illustration of an apple shaped like a house.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

When Philip Belcastro's rent doubled, the St. Petersburg High School English teacher scrambled to find a place he could afford close to the school. He got a no-frills apartment in an old converted house where he can hear traffic on I-275 all night.

  • Then rent went up again, so that apartment is now filled with moving boxes.

What's happening: Some Tampa Bay educators, like many in the country, can't afford to live where they teach.

Why it matters: Tampa Bay is facing a teacher shortage. With political pressure increasing and the housing market getting more expensive, the teacher shortage will likely continue to grow.

  • The school year started last week with nearly 7,000 teaching vacancies statewide, per the Florida Education Association— more than 900 openings than last year. Openings for school support staff bring this year's total to 12,000 unfilled positions.

The big picture: In 15 of 69 U.S. cities analyzed by the nonprofit National Council on Teacher Quality a teacher with a starting salary could not comfortably afford a one-bedroom apartment.

  • Affordable housing just for teachers is popping up around the country, as expensive districts bet on leveraging tax-free, district-owned land to counteract low teacher salaries, Axios' Emma Hurt reports.

Zoom in: In Tampa, the average annual cost for owning a home is more than 32% of an experienced teacher's salary — those with a bachelor's degree and 15 years of experience.

  • In the Tampa Bay metro area, homeowner costs are 28% of their salary.
  • Florida ranks 48th in the nation for teacher pay, according to a recent report from the National Education Association.

What they're saying: Teachers starting out in the district often can't afford to live there, Manatee County Education Association president Pat Barber told Axios. So they sometimes commute long hours from farther, cheaper counties.

  • "They do whatever they can do to make it work: moving in with family, finding roommates, living in less desirable accommodations," Barber said.

Between the lines: Housing may have pushed Belcastro over the edge, but he was already fed up over legislation limiting talk of gender and sexuality in schools. And he's not alone.

  • The legislation has also driven out Manatee teachers and made it more difficult to recruit and train them, Barber said.

The bottom line: Belcastro still wants to teach, but he knows it probably won't be in Florida.

  • "I'm not sure where I'm going, but I apply for jobs outside of Florida every single day," he told Axios. "I have prioritized leaving this state as soon as possible and taking any comparable job."

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Tampa Bay stories

No stories could be found

Tampa Baypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Tampa Bay.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more