A classroom at De Portola Middle School / Photo by Dustin Michelson

One way to retain teachers and help them cope with soaring rents is by encouraging local school districts to build affordable housing projects exclusively for teachers.

California is experiencing a teacher shortage — even though the enrollment in teacher credentialing programs is rising, the numbers just aren’t high enough. Many California teachers have already departed to less-expensive states where housing costs are more in line with salaries, which has exacerbated our teacher shortage.

Voice of San Diego Commentary

In San Diego, a school teacher needs to make $130,986 a year in order to afford a median-priced single-family home. With the average public school teacher salary at $61,113, purchasing a home is unlikely. San Diego is one of the most expensive cities to live in, with rents among the highest in the state. The only option for most new teachers is to rent — an expense that can eat up over 50 percent of a teacher’s pay, and that’s not including utilities. To make ends meet, many teachers often take on second and even third jobs. To avoid paying high rents, many teachers spend hours each day commuting long distances to work from areas where rents are less expensive.

District-owned affordable housing projects aren’t a new idea — they have been built in Los Angeles, Santa Clara and San Mateo over the last 20 years. But the idea is new for San Diego, where recent state laws make building employee housing easier for school districts.

California’s Teacher Housing Act of 2016 allows school districts to provide affordable housing specifically for district employees and their families. The previous law required that homes or apartments be open to anyone who meets the low-income requirement if they used state and federal low-income housing funds or tax credits. But another law passed in 2017 exempts school districts from some of the usual requirements related to the sale or lease of property if it will be used for employee housing. Districts no longer have to convene an advisory committee when they want to sell, lease or rent surplus property. The bill also exempts the district from property tax on the complex. Building affordable housing can help take off some of the financial pressure for new teachers, allowing them to focus on teaching kids, not paying the rent.

As school districts in San Diego County struggle to pay salaries that keep pace with the high cost of living, many are turning to incentives such as signing bonuses to attract and retain new teachers. Affordable housing projects for teachers are one more incentive. Building more housing will also help address San Diego’s rental crisis by increasing the housing inventory. Non-teaching district employees who are usually paid less than teachers also need affordable housing, so they would be included in the teacher affordable-housing program. District-owned affordable housing projects can be built using several different funding sources, including general obligation bonds that are issued by school districts and community colleges, to finance the construction of facilities. Other funding mechanisms include subsidies from the city, loans, low-income housing tax credits and federal and state grants. The school district that is providing the property does not need to sell the land and can opt for a no-cost, long-term lease.

Having teachers live in the neighborhoods they work in benefits students and parents, because most teachers want the opportunity to connect with the community and families they teach. District-owned affordable housing programs can help make that happen and help create stability in our schools, which is vital, especially in low-income areas, where it is needed the most.

There is no arguing that San Diego has a housing problem, and most agree that there is no individual method to tackle the housing crisis. We will most likely need a multifaceted approach to increase the number and affordability of homes. Due to the complexity of the problem, innovative solutions such as district-owned affordable housing projects need to be given serious consideration, because San Diego is still behind in building housing, which is keeping rents and home prices too high, especially for teachers.

Mark Powell is a San Diego Association of Realtors board director and San Diego County Board of Education trustee. He’s also an adjunct professor at National University.

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