Buying a Home Is Nearly Impossible for Teachers in These Cities

Critics argue that the real fix is simply to pay our educators better.

pinstock/iStock

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


Lauren Paquette dreams of owning a home with a pool. But the 34-year-old fifth-grade science teacher knows it’s a pipe dream: She recently had to find a roommate to help with the monthly rent of $1,425 on her three-bedroom house in Houston. Although that’s relatively cheap compared with rents across the country, it’s tough on a teacher’s salary. Saving up for a down payment is out of the question, said Paquette, a single mother.

“It’s not like I went into this job thinking I’d make a bunch of money, but I expected to be able to make ends meet,” Paquette said. Finances have been easier since she left North Carolina for Texas (North Carolina ranks in the lower tenth of states for teacher pay), but Paquette’s struggles aren’t unique.

As housing prices have soared in all the usual major metropolitan areas—as well as in cites like Las Vegas, Sacramento, Atlanta, and Minneapolis—teachers’ wages haven’t kept pace. And with school districts already struggling to recruit and retain educators, this rising gap is just another barrier to keeping teachers in the profession.

 

Redfin, a real estate brokerage firm, compared listed home prices in more than 30 cities with average teachers’ salaries to gauge what percentage of available homes teachers could afford. (Administrators, principals, and special-education teachers were not included in the data, and New York City was not studied.) The number of homes within reach for a single teacher has declined in some places by more than 25 percent since 2012.

That’s no surprise in San Francisco, where just 14 out of the 2,244 listed houses were within reach on the average teacher salary of $71,000. But the dearth of affordable options has worsened in Las Vegas, Sacramento, Chicago, and Dallas, where in each city less than 25 percent of listed houses are affordable for teachers. 

Of course, home ownership—traditionally an economic engine of the middle class—isn’t out of reach for just teachers. High housing prices are pushing middle-class workers out of many cities. Redfin chief economist Nela Richardson said the notion that civil servants live in the communities they serve is becoming a thing of the past: “These are middle-class salaries, but middle-class people can’t afford to buy homes.”

 

Rental prices mirror the housing market, so teachers who rent are also getting pushed out of the cities in which they teach. Meanwhile, attempts to fix the crisis in Los Angeles have backfired, and other novel solutions—like Sen. Corey Booker’s eight-building Teacher Village in Newark, New Jersey, or plans for teacher-only residential units in the San Francisco Bay Area—either just opened or are still years away. Despite creative housing solutions for our cities’ educators, many critics of these plans argue that the real solution is simply paying teachers higher salaries.

David Fisher, the vice president of the Sacramento City Teachers Association, lived in a studio apartment with his wife and son for 15 years before he could afford a house in Sacramento. “These aren’t McMansions in the suburbs,” Fisher said. “These are modest houses is modest neighborhoods.” Besides, he said, most teachers are concerned with paying off student loan debt before even considering buying a home.

There are a few cities where it’s not so bad. In Philadelphia, where teachers’ salaries saw a 15 percent increase since 2012, more than 35 percent of houses for sale are affordable for teachers. Like most civil servants, teachers have more options anywhere the housing supply is larger.

Paquette, the science teacher, figures that she may be able to buy a house in 10 years—and says she’ll stay in Houston as long as she can afford it. Whether she’ll stay in education is another question. “I get that itch quite often,” she said, “to leave the classroom.”

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.