Housing crisis hits teachers and staff in urban and rural areas
Last year, Veronica Juarez, a peer education coach and middle-school teacher in San Francisco for more than 20 years, was living in the city with her mom and two kids. Now, after an owner move-in eviction, she and her 10-year-old son, Rio, are living in a couple rooms and limited kitchen access. Her mom moved back to Mexico, and her daughter, in college at Long Beach, will stay there.
“It basically split us up,” Juarez said. “Now, I’m just trying to save money to move out of state.”
Hilltop High School’s school nurse, Susan Kitchell, also had to move because of an owner move-in eviction. She found another place to rent in San Francisco, with half the room for twice the price.
Kitchell, 65, found looking for an apartment disheartening.
“It’s a sad state of affairs. Every third or fourth person I speak to has a housing story,” she said. “The paraprofessionals are among the lowest paid in the area. I know people in their 30s, married with a baby, who have roommates.”
To help their members in San Francisco’s housing market, the United Educators of San Francisco has been working for years on dedicated housing. In surveys, a majority of members has expressed interest in such housing. On September 12, the district school board voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the mayor’s office to build housing for teachers and paras.
“It’s projected to have about 140 apartments,” said President Lita Blanc, “with about 40 percent for income levels of $40,000, so those would work for our paraeducators. Others would be available for midcareer teachers. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Outside San Francisco, educators are feeling the same pinch. Salinas Valley Federation of Teachers Secretary Sarah Burkhart, a social science teacher at Washington Middle School in Salinas, sees rents in the semi-rural area being driven up by people escaping the expense of San Jose. Burkhart, 28, had two roommates last year, and when rent went up, they moved back in with their parents. Looking for a new place, she found many had long waiting lists. Finally, Burkhart found an 800-square-foot apartment that she can barely afford at $1400.
“It can be really tight,” she said. “If I get a nail in my tire, I’m living off ramen. I’m a professional and I have a career, but there are still months I don’t know if I’m going to make it.”
Salinas President Steve McDougall says things started getting bad for teachers during the recession and it’s grown worse.
“In order to survive in Monterey County, you need to make over $50,000 a year,” he said. “New teachers can’t afford to live here.”
United Teachers Los Angeles AFT Vice President Juan Ramirez sees the same thing. “Here in LA, I can see where it’s affecting the teaching profession,” he said. “My daughter and son-in-law are both teachers, and they can’t afford to buy a home.”
Katherine Klein, a fourth grade teacher at Sherman Elementary School in San Francisco considers herself lucky. She lives with her husband and child in a rent-controlled apartment. Even so, teachers’ salaries are still an issue.
“My cousin and I started teaching at the same time,” Klein said. “We have the same education and years of service. He lives in Riverside and makes $108, 000 a year. I make $70,000, and live in a city where it costs $1.5 million for a house.”
With 10 percent of teachers leaving every year, the affordability crisis is at the heart of current negotiations, where Blanc says UESF is focused on getting the biggest salary increase possible. Meanwhile, they are working on other ways to address it, including down payment assistance and a hotline to an attorney for teachers facing eviction, along with the dedicated housing.
Blanc notes the cost of housing development won’t come out of funds directed to salaries, with the district contributing a former school site and the city paying for construction.
“But it’s a drop in the bucket,” Blanc said. “We’re in full organizing mode and fighting for affordable housing for everybody.”
—By Emily Wilson, CFT Reporter
Thurmond bill calls for school employee housing
Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond) carried AB 45, which would provide financial assistance to K-12 districts seeking to develop rental housing for school employees. The CFT-sponsored bill passed out of the Legislature and is on the governor’s desk.
“Housing for school employees is a big need in our state,” said Thurmond, who is also the CFT-endorsed candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction race next year. “This bill will go a long way to help recruit and retain quality teachers in California.”
According to the Learning Policy Institute, 75 percent of California schools report a shortage of teachers. Housing models to address this shortage have been used throughout the nation.