Teaching Profession

Where Teachers Can and Can’t Afford to Live

By Liana Loewus — October 17, 2017 4 min read
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For new teachers in about a quarter of large schools districts across the United States, renting a one-bedroom apartment is simply unaffordable, finds a recent analysis.

The National Council on Teacher Quality looked at teacher salary data for 124 large districts, and compared those to the median costs for apartment rental and homeownership in those areas. The group pulled rental costs from the real estate website Zillow and home prices from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

New York City, San Francisco, and Washington are (not surprisingly) the least affordable places for new teachers, the analysis shows. In New York, for instance, teachers make an average of $51,650 with a bachelor’s degree at the beginning of their careers. But renting a one-bedroom there costs $2,351 on average per month. That means teachers would need to spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent (an oft-cited threshold for affordability).

(The below chart from NCTQ asks: Is the median one-bedroom rent 30 percent or less of a teacher’s salary? For the full interactive chart, head here.)

Teachers in other large cities—Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, Nashville, and Seattle—would struggle to pay rent for a one-bedroom as well.

Buying a home is even tougher for teachers, the analysis indicates, in particular in the West and the Northeast. The data show:

  • To save enough for a 20 percent down payment on a median-priced home, teachers need to work for 10 years on average. That’s not so different from other professions. (The median age for a first-time buyer is 32 years old.)
  • In five districts, teachers would need to save for more than 20 years to reach a 20 percent down payment. Those districts are in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.; Fairfax County, Va.; Hawaii (the state has a single district); Oakland, Calif.; and San Francisco.
  • Teachers in Detroit and San Antonio only need about three years to save for a down payment. In fact, teachers in several other Texas districts—Arlington, Brownsville, Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Pasadena—can save for a down payment in fewer than five years.
  • Monthly mortgage payments are a barrier in the majority of districts. “In only a small fraction of the districts (20 percent) can a teacher with five years of experience comfortably afford the monthly costs associated with buying a median-priced home,” the report states, “and that assumes the teacher has acquired a master’s degree and the boost in salary that generally comes with it,”

Most of the analysis assumes teachers live alone, and that they can save 10 percent of their salary per year toward a down payment. And while the analysis uses Zillow to estimate rental costs, the website itself admits those estimates are just a starting point (and as the report points out, they differ widely from those cited by the Census).

Previous reports have shown real estate to be out of many teachers’ reach also, and pointed they’ve also to California’s Bay Area and Hawaii as being particularly difficult places.

As we’ve written, some cities have been experimenting with ways to make housing more affordable for teachers, including by giving them discounts on homes and creating “teachers villages.”

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.