Teachers in Turmoil

January 18, 2019
Photo: Unsplash/NeOnbrand

San Francisco's "unprecedented" affordability crisis in housing is keeping teachers and other integral public sector employees from living in the communities in which they work. 

Nationally, the cost of living is outpacing real wage growth, and in California, teachers are feeling it even more acutely. Indeed, Los Angeles public school teachers recently began their first strike in 30 years after more than a year of failed negotiations including wage increases. Kristy Wang, community planning policy director at nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) tells HuffPost, “It’s so important for our public servants to be able to live in their communities, but we live in such a high-cost housing market that it’s really difficult for them to do that because they just don’t make enough." 2018 survey data by Stanford University for San Francisco Unified School District found that 66 percent of teachers spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent, meeting the tradtionally-held standard of being cost-burdened. Of those teachers, 14.7 percent report that rent takes up more than half of their income. 

A few years ago, Sarah was living in a drafty garage belonging to one of her friends. Despite being a smart, highly qualified teacher to sixth- and seventh-graders at a public middle school not far from San Francisco’s international airport, she simply could not afford to live anywhere else in the city“Basically, we had nowhere to live,” she says. Then her best friend, also a single mom and struggling to afford her duplex rent, suggested that Sarah move in. “My daughter shared a room with my friend’s son — they’re the same age, went to preschool together and know each other well,” Sarah says. “And I lived in her garage for a year.”

Listening to Sarah’s matter-of-fact account of how she bought carpet and space heaters to make her new sleeping quarters more comfortable, the rationale is compelling. Her rent was now $1,300 a month, and sharing grocery shopping with her friend also cut costs.

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