Teachers Can’t Afford To Live Where They Teach As Cities Gentrify

Colorado school districts are becoming landlords, providing housing for teachers. Isn’t it time NYC and California did the same?

By Jeff Vasishta January 18, 2017

Parents routinely move to upscale neighborhoods so their kids can attend good public schools. You know the ones. The gym looks like it belongs to an NFL team. The library looks like it could launch the Space Shuttle. The students’ cars in the parking lot may have your thinking that a board meeting for a Fortune 500 company is taking place inside. It’s why wealthy parents pay high taxes to live there. But what about the teachers? How are they supposed to live in the same neighborhoods that they teach in? Some schools are now becoming landlords, in an effort to keep good teachers in their classrooms.

No more is the issue more pressing in Colorado, where several school districts are taking the unprecedented steps to find or provide affordable housing for their teachers and staff. With gentrification outpacing teachers salaries, principles are finding themselves increasingly desperate to keep good staff.

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“This year when it comes to hiring season, I will probably struggle to replace four to six teachers because of housing,” David Blackburn, the superintendent of the Salida school district in central Colorado, told CityLab. “It’s in the middle of every conversation about quality staff.”

Teachers find themselves in a tricky situation. They earn too much to qualify for affordable housing—but not enough to live on. A report entitled Paycheck to Paycheck discovered that renting an apartment in Denver requires an annual salary of at least $49,000. While the district’s average teacher salary is around $54,000 with an average of $5,800 in additional stipends and incentives, the base salary for a beginning Denver teacher with a bachelor’s degree is about $40,000.

The idea of providing subsidized teacher housing in Colorado schools isn’t new. Campuses have been doing it since the 1960’s. Recently, when a beloved principle and his wife were forced to leave because they couldn’t afford to live there, the outcry provoked action with mountain districts launching projects to build employee housing—often with significant support from local civic leaders, banks, and the business community.

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Nowhere is affordable housing more pressing than in New York. Former war-zone neighborhoods, such as Bushwick and East New York, are being razed and replaced gleaming condos with sky high prices.

Theodore Hamilton, a Work Based Learning Coordinator at the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism in Flatbush, Brooklyn, purchased his East New York duplex through Neighborhood Housing Services affordable housing program a decade ago. He’s seen dramatic changes in his neighborhood.

“There aren’t so many abandoned lots anymore,” he says. “There is so much construction going on on Rockaway Avenue, Bushwick Avenue, the entirety of Broadway Junction. At my job in Flatbush, teachers don’t look in Brooklyn anymore to rent. It’s too expensive. They’re looking in Queens.”

Many districts do provide housing incentives for teachers, New York being one, and some teachers may qualify for the affordable housing programs the city has. But actually owning apartment buildings and renting them cheaply to public school teachers is rare—if not completely absent—from most cities.

Even in super wealthy neighborhoods such as Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, where teachers make six figures, life for the latter is unaffordable.

“Steve Jobs’ kids went through this school,” Tara Hunt a third grade teacher in Palo Alto who commutes two hours each way to work, told NPR. “We have some pretty high-profile parents. It’s really hard to relate with them because they’re very wealthy people,” she says. “And its hard for those people to understand what Silicon Valley teachers are facing: “No one’s being proactive.”

“It’s important for teachers to live and make roots in the communities where they teach,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, tells NPR Ed. “Yet renting or buying a home in expensive cities is financially out of reach for most educators. Salary increases alone won’t do the trick.”

And, until more cities build subsidized condos or apartments specifically for teachers, nothing will.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.

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