Teaching Profession

Is Homeownership Out of Reach for Most Teachers?

By Madeline Will — May 11, 2023 5 min read
Illustration of a house being carried off into the sky by 5 balloons with a dollar sign on each balloon.
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Housing costs are rising precipitously, and teacher salaries are not always keeping pace.

A new analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality analyzes the cost of housing in 69 metropolitan areas against the teacher salaries in the 74 largest school districts in those areas. The analysis finds that housing affordability and teacher salaries vary significantly across the country, but in several cities, like San Francisco and Portland, Ore., a beginning teacher can’t afford to rent a one-bedroom home, and it would take a teacher more than two decades to buy a home.

“When teachers can’t afford their homes in the school district, it exacerbates teacher staffing challenges,” said Heather Peske, the president of NCTQ. “Home prices and teacher salaries are intricately linked to our goal of trying to ensure a diverse and effective teacher workforce for all students across the nation.”

Housing affordability is an especially big barrier for recruiting teachers of color, who tend to carry more student debt than white teachers, Peske added.

NCTQ calculated median home prices through Zillow’s Home Value Index, which includes data from July 2022 to February 2023. The organization also used rental-cost data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which defines housing affordability as assorted costs that make up less than 30 percent of one’s salary.

The analysis mainly accounts for one teacher income, without taking into account that many teachers might have a partner with whom they split housing costs. Even so, NCTQ found that in a household with two teacher incomes, it would take much longer to save for a down payment than the average U.S. household.

Teachers “shouldn’t have to rely on having roommates or being partnered in order to be able to afford to live in the communities where they teach,” Peske said.

Where can new teachers afford rent?

Since 2017, rent for a one-bedroom home in the biggest metropolitan areas in the country has increased by 22 percent—yet starting teacher salaries in the 74 school districts analyzed have increased by 15 percent.

In 15 of the metropolitan areas analyzed, a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree would not be able to afford a one-bedroom rental. In nine of them, a novice teacher with a master’s degree would also be priced out.

(The Hawaii school district covers the entire state, so NCTQ compared salaries with housing costs in its largest urban area, Honolulu.)

Most and Least Affordable School Districts for a New Teacher to Rent a One-Bedroom

1. Wichita, Kan., public schools
2. Jefferson Parish, La., public schools
3. Laramie County, Wy., school district
4. Cleveland, Ohio, metropolitan school district
5. Bismarck, N.D., public schools
6. Cincinnati, Ohio, public schools
7. Indianapolis public schools
8. Sioux, S.D., school district
9. Little Rock, Ark., school district
10. Columbus, Ohio, city schools
1. San Francisco Unified school district
2. Portland, Ore., public schools
3. San Diego Unified school district
4. Hawaii
5. New York City
6. Washington, D.C.
7. Boston public schools
8. Montgomery County, Md., public schools
9. Fairfax County, Va., public schools
10. Los Angeles Unified school district

“When a teacher can’t afford to live in the community in which they teach, it often means really long commutes in order to be able to get to their housing, and that can mean a really long workday,” Peske said. “It also means less proximity to the families and the students they teach, which may mean not as frequent connections.”

She added: “Hours on the road mean less time for planning for instruction or assessing student work or attending to” personal needs and interests.

Where can teachers afford to buy a home?

In the biggest metropolitan areas in the country, it would take a teacher more than 13-and-a-half years to save up for a 20 percent down payment on an average-priced home, the analysis found. (That’s assuming the teacher is the household’s sole breadwinner and is saving 10 percent of their salary a year.)

If the teacher holds a master’s degree and earns more money, it would take 12-and-a-half years.

It takes a little over four years for the average U.S. household to save for a down payment, the NCTQ report notes. (According to U.S. Census data, the average household has 1.3 incomes.)

There’s wide variation across the country, but in four cities—San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and San Diego—it would take teachers 25 years or longer to save for a down payment on their own.

In some metropolitan areas, teachers are priced out of buying a home because their salary is too low. In others, it’s because housing supply is low and prices are skyrocketing.

Districts where it takes the least and the most time to buy a home

1. Kanawha County, W.Va., schools
2. Jackson, Miss., public schools
3. Pittsburgh public schools
4. Detroit public schools community district
5. Cleveland, Ohio, metropolitan school district
6. Chicago public schools
7. Little Rock, Ark., school district
8. Wichita, Kan., public schools
9. Jefferson County, Ky., public schools
10. Memphis-Shelby County, Tenn., schools
1. San Francisco Unified school district
2. Los Angeles Unified school district
3. Hawaii
4. San Diego Unified school district
5. Portland, Ore., public schools
6. Fairfax County, Va., public schools
7. Seattle public schools
8. Sacramento City Unified school district
9. Bridgeport, Conn., public schools
10. West Ada, Idaho, school district

And buying a home is only the first step. The NCTQ analysis found that the cost of the mortgage payment, taxes, insurance, and utilities exceeds 30 percent of a teacher’s gross income in two-thirds of the districts in the sample. That’s assuming the teacher has a bachelor’s degree and 15 years experience.

What school districts are doing to help

NCTQ Senior Economist Patricia Saenz-Armstrong, who conducted the analysis, said raising teacher salaries can help—but sometimes, it’s not enough, and the real problem is the lack of affordable housing in the area. In some districts, like Los Angeles Unified, housing costs are too expensive for teachers even after they’ve secured a significant raise.

A growing number of districts across the country are offering housing perks to teachers as a recruitment and retention strategy. An EdWeek Research Center survey, conducted last July, found that 11 percent of teachers said free or subsidized housing for educators would make them more likely to stay in the teaching profession long-term.

At least eight school districts in Arizona are creating teacher housing with federal pandemic-relief money, CNN has reported. The housing will be heavily subsidized.

The Chino Valley Unified school district, two hours north of Phoenix, is building 10 studio units that are each 400 square feet and will cost $550 per month. The Sedona-Oak Creek Unified school district plans to convert a vacant school building into 11 studio and one- to two-bedroom apartments. And the Prescott Unified school district is building six 843-square-feet homes behind an elementary school.

Meanwhile, the Jefferson Union high school district in Daly City, Calif., tells prospective teachers that it’s “more than just your next workplace—we are your next home.” The district has a 122-unit apartment building that it rents out to teachers at a discounted price. Officials told CNN that the complex is nearly full.

There isn’t a large body of research on how well these incentives work at recruiting and retaining teachers, or even whether they’re good housing policy in general. There are also some concerns about what it means for teachers to have their bosses as their landlords. And some districts set time limits for how long teachers can stay in the subsidized housing, which can cause challenges down the road if the teachers are still not able to afford market-value rent near their school at that point.

Even so, “when districts start taking on the role of managing property, it signals to me that they don’t feel like there’s another option,” Peske said.

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