Some Schools Are Constructing Affordable Teacher Accommodations In Order To Keep Their Staff

Lisa Raskin, a high school teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, just moved out of a small apartment she was sharing with a roommate and into her own home this month. She now pays $1,500 per month for a one-bedroom apartment with wide views that is within walking distance to her place of employment.

Until recently, it seemed like an impossibility to build a new home in an area where the cost of living was prohibitive. However, her workplace, a 4,000-student school district south of San Francisco, was an unusual success story in the quest to offer affordable housing and built 122 units for teachers and employees in May.  “I have a sense of community, which I think is more valuable than anything else,” the 41-year-old San Francisco native said. “More districts really need to consider this model. I think it shows educators that they value them.”

In Daly City, in San Mateo County, the Jefferson Union High School District has educator housing, one of just a few in the country. A national teacher shortage and rapidly increasing rental prices mean that this working-class neighborhood might serve as a sign for other school districts nationwide as they attempt to recruit and retain teachers.  “This is absolutely a solution for other districts. As we’ve gone through the process, we’ve learned of so many other districts interested in doing what we’ve done,” said Andrew Lie, a school board trustee. “For us to be at the front end of this new wave of teacher and staff housing is actually pretty exciting.” “It’s like a great gift coming from the district,” said math teacher Eleonor Obedoza of her family’s new three-bedroom apartment.

The American Federation of Teachers recently helped establish a facility in Welch, West Virginia, containing teacher residences and retail stores in the hopes of revitalizing the small rural community.  Teachers were traveling “hours and hours to get to school and back,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT union president. “So this became an idea to spark economic development and to create housing.”

Many school districts are considering the idea of housing their teachers in the areas where they work, a co-founder and director at Berkeley’s Center for Cities and Schools has predicted, citing the advantages of teachers living in their communities and getting to know children and their families.

Residents may also object to such initiatives, which face a number of hurdles. There is a need for districts to be careful, says Vincent.  “One of the biggest barriers is the need for people to think outside the box,” he said. “There are skeptics of whether schools should be doing this with their land.”

In the Jefferson Union district, around a fifth of the 500 staff leave or retire every year, and the district, whose teacher salaries start at $60,000 in the 2022-23 school year, cannot compete with wealthy schools that pay new teachers $76,000 or more.

As a result, in 2017-2018, administrators devised a strategy to address teacher and staff recruitment and retention that included a $75 million housing complex supported in part by a $30 million bond measure passed by voters in 2018.

The district also has a more ambitious proposal to lease school land for a 1,200-unit complex that would blend retail with market-rate housing and generate income to boost teacher wages. But the local branch of the Sierra Club and others have raised concerns. Their goal is to maintain more open space by building higher structures and renting out more apartments at below-market rates.

However, the district has refused to implement these changes so far. “It’s terrible the schools have to come up with schemes to build housing to pay teachers,” said Gladwyn d’Souza, a Sierra Club member who supports workforce housing but says there should be more homes for everyone.

They may remain for up to five years, ideally putting away money for their down payment on a property.

However, they’re getting harder to acquire. According to a Redfin survey in 2016, just 20% of houses for sale in major U.S. metro regions were affordable on an average teacher’s income of $62,800, compared to 34% in 2012.

Shirley Jones-Luke, a longtime Dorchester high school English teacher who purchased her home almost two decades ago, says she couldn’t afford one now. She blames the neighborhood’s growing gentrification.  “It’s important to students to know that their teachers live in the same communities as them, shop at the same stores,” said Jones-Luke, who is Black. “They realize the teachers aren’t out of touch because we live in the same ’hood. I know what’s going on in the ’hood just as much as they do.”

It was revealed that just 17% of houses in California were affordable on the average state teacher income of around $74,000 in 2016, down from 30% in 2012, according to research conducted in 2016. Only 0.2% of San Francisco’s houses are affordable to teachers, and there are none in Silicon Valley, where the typical home price in June was $1.5 million.

Although state legislators in 2016 made it simpler for school districts to create worker housing on school grounds, some plans have stagnated due to funding issues and opposition from residents. Los Angeles, Santa Clara, and San Mateo counties each have five housing developments for the working class.

This summer, the San Francisco Unified School District expects to commence work on a 135-unit teacher housing complex after more than two decades of effort. Two years behind schedule, it might be available for lease in 2024.  “It was a fight to get it, and it isn’t built yet,” said Cassondra Curiel, president of United Educators of San Francisco. “It’ll alleviate pressure, and it’ll be great for those folks who get in there. The bottom line and the objective truth is, it’s not enough.”

As a rare success story, Jefferson Union built its new structure on the site of an old high school parking lot that is now utilized for district offices.

Monthly rent is between $1356 (one-bedroom) and $251 (three bedroom), which authorities claim is 58 percent of the market cost for this kind of housing unit. As a bonus, each level has a bicycle storage area where instructors may store their bikes, as well as meeting areas where they can interact or collaborate on classes.

Taylor and Darnel Garcia, both 27, had given up hope of ever leaving their cramped in-law apartment with their two young children (ages 3 and 6). The administrative assistant and her husband, a school district mechanic, wondered whether they could afford to remain in the Bay Area.  “We were kind of floating in the unknown for a while,” she said after moving into their new three-bedroom apartment in May. “It’s so hard to say, ‘Hey, I have a good career, and I still can’t afford to live here.’ So this provided that for us.”

According to Tina Van Raaphorst, the school’s assistant superintendent of business services, roughly 80 staff will be moving in by the fall and another 30 are applying. School administrators, custodial staff, and bus drivers get an average yearly income of $62,300, which includes janitors and cafeteria employees.

Melissa Kallstrom, a mother of a district kid, says she doesn’t mind that the staff have moved. However, she is opposed to the plans to demolish the community garden, which she and others believe offers a valuable piece of green space.  “This hasn’t been developed. This has just come naturally,” she said of the garden.

Raskin is well aware of the difficulties associated with undergoing a life-changing transition. She grew up in the Mission District of San Francisco, a working-class district that is now trendy and home to upscale restaurants, but she cannot afford to live alone there anymore because of her financial situation.

She had to leave her mother’s home during the pandemic to live with a friend in an apartment shared by both of them. Even so, the living space was limited. According to Raskin, an instructor of health and social science, the chance to move into her own house was like winning the lottery. Her words echoed, “This is mine.”

The following article was paraphrased, the original article can be found here:

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