Recruitment & Retention

Home Is Where the Money Is

By Vaishali Honawar — September 29, 2006 3 min read
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You can’t teach where you can’t afford to live. That’s the fundamental conundrum facing administrators in high-priced real estate markets. It’s also the reason a growing number of them are considering some highly unorthodox ways to make housing affordable for educators.

Cash subsidies for rent and mortgages have been tried before, but the recent real estate boom has pushed several districts to go beyond mere dollars in their efforts to recruit and retain teachers.

Math educator Tiffany Judkins says the $400 monthly rent stipend New York City administrators offered convinced her to teach there.

“By the time they have paid for college loans, transportation, and insurance, there is not much left in the paycheck for housing,” says Jewell Gould, the AFT’s director of research. In some expensive regions, she adds, that means teachers must commute two to three hours each way from their homes in less- gentrified areas.

In Florida’s Osceola County, the school board wants to team with developers and build apartments that educators could rent at below-market rates. Administrators in San Luis Obispo, California, are considering getting into the short-term home loan business. And in Nevada’s Clark County, officials are putting together a plan to make district-owned land available for teachers’ houses.

It’s not the kind of commerce districts usually get involved with, but the wide disparity between home costs and teacher pay has forced officials to think creatively. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the nationwide average price of an existing home is $273,300. That’s a hard nut to crack when you only make $31,700—the latest figure available from the American Federation of Teachers for a beginning teacher.

Greg White, a recruitment specialist for the 50,000-student Osceola County schools, complains that several teachers have turned down jobs because of housing costs. Renting a two-bedroom apartment is around $900 a month, he says, and the starting teacher pay is $36,000. That’s why his and other Florida districts are pushing for legislation that would allow partnering with developers to build apartments for teachers.

In San Luis Obispo, where the median house price is about $620,000, according to Brad Parker, San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s director of operations, transportation, and facilities, board members are considering a program that would pay $100,000 toward co-purchasing a house with a teacher or support staffer. Workers would have about five years to buy out the district ownership.

But it’s in explosively growing Clark County, Nevada, that officials are contemplating perhaps the deepest investment in teacher housing. The district, which includes Las Vegas, has had trouble attracting out-of-state teachers with its $33,000 starting salary, says George Ann Rice, the associate superintendent for human resources: “The way the cost of living went up and the price of housing went up, we had to swing into action and do something.”

So under a plan Rice hopes the school board will receive by January, the district would build houses for teachers on three 9-acre parcels of its own land not needed for schools. The idea, borrowed from a successful faculty-housing initiative at the University of California, Irvine, would enable the district to retain ownership of the land through a foundation or trust, and teachers could only sell the houses back to the school system.But Rice adds that it would also keep prices down—a big enticement she could offer when trying to recruit thousands of new teachers each year. In 2005-06, her office had to fill 3,200 slots.

“When you take the land out of the equation, you take the price down 25 percent,” Rice notes.

But some question how long such a fix would last.

“Anything that helps teachers get housing is good, but it will not solve the long-term problem,” declares Clark County Education Association President Mary Ella Holloway, pointing to the school population, which added 12,000 students last year alone. “If we hire 2,000 new teachers every year, we cannot build 2,000 new homes each year.”

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A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2006 edition of Teacher Magazine as Home Is Where the Money Is

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