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News >  Education

School district asks parents to let teachers move in as rents soar

By Jonathan Edwards Washington Post

Ten teachers quit their jobs at a San Francisco Bay area school district when the academic year ended in June, the superintendent told school board members last month. They didn’t burn out, switch careers or decide to stay home with their families.

The teachers left because they couldn’t afford to live near their schools – so they moved to places where they could.

Their exodus led school district officials in Milpitas, California, to ask students’ parents for help: Would they let a teacher move in?

The district sent a message to parents this week, urging them to fill out an online form if “you have a room for rent at your home and would like to share the housing opportunity with our Milpitas Unified School District educators.” The message linked to the form, which asks parents how many rooms they have available and how much they would charge for rent.

Dozens have responded in a few days, Scott Forstner, a district spokesperson, told the Washington Post in an email.

“With 53 responses to our call for Rooms for Rent for (district staff) in such a short time, this is evidence that our entire (team), which includes our teachers and classified support staff, is valued by our Milpitas community members, parents and caregivers,” Superintendent Cheryl Jordan wrote in an email to the Post.

It’s a new approach to an ongoing problem in California, especially the Bay Area, where teacher pay hasn’t kept pace with the cost of living, particularly when it comes to housing.

The gap between “those who can afford a home in the San Francisco Bay Area and those who cannot, is widening at an alarming rate,” the Milpitas school board said in a resolution it unanimously approved at its Aug. 23 meeting. Many of the district’s roughly 1,000 employees – about half of them teachers – are “moderate-income employees” who are “finding it increasingly difficult to purchase or rent a home within a 15 mile radius or (closer) to the Milpitas Unified School District where they work.”

The problem has plagued California for years. In 2016, national real estate brokerage Redfin analyzed California’s 31 most-populated counties, including the Bay Area, The Post reported at the time. Redfin determined that teachers earning the state’s average salary could afford 17% of homes for sale in those counties. Just four years earlier, 30% of homes were considered affordable, which meant a mortgage payment would not exceed about one-third of a teacher’s pay.

Santa Clara County, home to Milpitas and Silicon Valley, topped Redfin’s list of least affordable places for teachers. The number of houses on the market that were affordable: zero.

In 2019, Sarah La Due told EdSource, a news organization focused on covering California education, that’s why she was moving to Las Vegas to teach high school instead of starting her sixth year at a school district in El Cerrito, a city in the east Bay Area about 40 miles northwest of Milpitas. In Vegas, La Due expected to live in a two-bedroom apartment by herself for less than $1,000 a month instead of spending $900 to rent a small bedroom in a house she shared with two roommates.

“I’m a 35-year-old professional woman and I shouldn’t have to live with roommates,” La Due said. “Why am I sacrificing so much to live in the Bay when there are other cities with culture and good food?”

Milpitas’s teachers can sympathize. The district did staff surveys in 2017 and 2021, which revealed about half of its employees suffered long commutes and high rents. Others faced an even more dire situation, Jordan told the school board.

“Some of the staff members have not had steady housing,” she added.

The district isn’t leaning entirely on parents to solve its teacher housing problem, Jordan said. Another effort: working with Landed, a group that helps teachers get home loans in high-priced markets. A third: working with Goldbar Builders, a developer that helps homeowners plan, finance, permit and build “alternative dwelling units” like mother-in-law suites in their backyards, which they can rent out.

The district has been trying to find rooms to rent from homeowners who don’t have kids in school and is talking with developers about building workforce housing in Milpitas. In May, a school district just south of San Francisco in Daly City opened 122 apartments where teachers and staff can live for up to five years at rents far below market rates, the Associated Press reported.

For now, school officials in Milpitas are left to watch teachers and other staff flee the Bay Area. Jordan told KNTV that the region’s high cost of living not only drives people away, it also scares people off. The end result is the same – educators who take their talents elsewhere.

“We’ve lost out on some employees that we tried to recruit,” she told the station, “because once they see how much it costs to live here, they determine that it’s just not possible.”

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