Whitney Chase at home in Kearny Mesa on Oct. 24, 2022.
Whitney Chase at home in Kearny Mesa on Oct. 24, 2022. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Whitney Chase has been teaching Spanish at the San Diego Unified School District for 16 years, 14 of which at Madison High School. She loves her job and values being able to connect with kids by teaching them about culture and participating in clubs and sport activities. She also loves seeing the long-term impact teaching can have on students. Some of her students have even returned to work as coaches or teachers. 

“To see kids that I’ve influenced come back and try to influence other kids, I think that has been the coolest part of what I do,” Chase said. 

But like many in San Diego, Chase and her family have struggled with the high cost of rent. For 11 years, she lived in a cottage in Ocean Beach with her husband and two children. Their rent was low for San Diego, which helped during the pandemic. 

“If it hadn’t been low, I probably wouldn’t have survived the pandemic, to be honest with you,” she said. “Because we were living on just one income, my family, my husband and I, so that in and of itself was hard.” 

Her first seven years as a teacher, Chase was on edge about her job. She got a notice every year that she could get laid off.  

 “I didn’t really have job security,” she said. “And then by the time that I did feel like, ‘Okay, I’m stable now, I’m not going to get laid off anymore, I can actually maybe try to apply for a mortgage,’ that’s when the housing market started going crazy.” 

Chase thinks SDUSD’s plan to build housing for the district’s workforce is a good first step, but she doesn’t expect it to help a family like hers own a home with a yard, parking and space to host other families. The district’s initial plan for workforce housing calls for 500 rental units, prioritizing staff with the lowest incomes, at the University Heights property that’s currently home to the district’s headquarters.  

 “I think that would be great for starting teachers, and I think that I’ll attract young teachers,” she said. 

San Diego Unified School District employee housing being built in Normal Heights on Oct. 24, 2022.
Construction going on at the George Walker Smith Education Campus on Oct. 24, 2022, where Wilson Middle was recently rebuilt and where Central Elementary will eventually be colocated. / Photo by Ariana Drehsler

Chase wants teachers to be able to own homes near the schools where they work, which she thinks could help the district retain teachers for longer by making them more invested in the community and able to send their kids to the same schools. Chase and her family recently moved to a new home that has the yard and space she hoped for, but the rent increased significantly. They’re now spending around 60 percent of their monthly pay on housing and utilities. But even though she can keep up on rent, she said she can’t qualify for a mortgage, so, she’s stuck renting. The problem isn’t a unique one. Many individuals who make too much to qualify for affordable housing and certain benefits that come along with it, and too little to purchase a home become stuck in looking for housing that doesn’t exist, known as the “missing middle.” 

“I’ve lived and I’ve worked in this community for 14 years, but I can’t afford to buy a home here,” Chase said. “And I think that’s really sad.” 

Between teachers and staff, San Diego Unified has over 10,000 employees. That means the 500 units the district intends to build a few years from now could only be available to less than 5 percent of its workforce in the first place. 

Those high costs and inability to find a permanent home have driven at least three teachers Chase knows to other states like Tennessee, Colorado or South Carolina in recent years. “These are teachers that had families and just decided was best for them was to leave,” Chase said. “We’re losing good teachers, we’re losing good people, we’re losing good citizens that care about the community just because they can’t afford to buy a home.” 

The Content Bouncing Around My Mind Palace    

  • The release of the Nation’s Report Card scores, national tests that track student performance, brought more bad news for schools. Nationally, and locally, the first scores released since the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the nation and its schools showed the largest decline in math scores in more than twenty years. But despite the significant drops in math at San Diego Unified, its reading scores, and those of California, were largely unchanged. 

What We’re Writing  

  • Want to know more about SDUSD’s plans for education workforce housing? Well, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a rundown of the housing the district hopes to create using potential bond funds, and the larger pressures animating that push. 

Jakob McWhinney is Voice of San Diego's education reporter. He can be reached by email at jakob@vosd.org and followed on Twitter @jakobmcwhinney. Subscribe...

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1 Comment

  1. While I empathize with this teacher, what about everybody else in the same situation who will now have to pay more to subsidize this housing initiative? How would she feel if she had to pay increased annual costs to pay for another group to get subsidized by her hard earned money and would that be ok with her for the added financial burden and daily stress to her and her family? What’s lost here is: who pays for this and that reality is EVERYBODY who lives in the district whether they have kids in school or not. Let’s not lose site that this bond hurts all those who can not afford this by hiding the real costs. Shameful.

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