West Coast teachers in housing crunch

Report: Educators working in Seattle would have to save 15-19 years in order to afford down payment on a house within city limits

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In cities across the U.S., school districts are looking for creative ways to help teachers afford to live near their schools.

School officials in San Francisco, for example, are planning to build 100 to 150 below-market housing units for educators in a $44 million partnership with their city.

Other districts have offered homebuying grants to attract teachers to places with rising housing costs, or provided modular homes rent-free.

No such proposals have surfaced in Seattle, even though this city is one of the least-affordable places for teachers, according to a new analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality, or NCTQ.

According to a report that NCTQ released Tuesday, first-year teachers in Seattle on average earn about $48,100, while data from the real-estate website Zillow shows the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment here tops $1,350. That means beginning educators, if they live alone, would have to fork over more than 30 percent of their wages to pay the rent — above the widely accepted gauge of housing affordability.

Teachers with five years of experience, a master’s degree and better pay would pay about 28 percent of their annual salary on rent for a one-bedroom in Seattle, according to the NCTQ data.

The NCTQ is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that typically advocates for reforms to teacher evaluation and pay policies. But for this study, President Kate Walsh said her organization wanted to see where teachers struggle to afford the basic expense of putting a roof over their heads.

Cities like San Francisco and Seattle — which are grappling with skyrocketing rent and housing prices — should pay more attention to who can afford to work in their schools, she said.

“Are you giving people enough money to buy a house or even rent a modest apartment?” she asked. “If you aren’t doing that, you’re sort of depriving a profession of what makes it a profession.”

Seattle is not alone in its housing challenges for teachers. The NCTQ found new teachers can expect their housing costs to exceed the 30 percent affordability threshold in about a quarter of 124 large districts in the U.S., including Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego and San Francisco.

While there’s no official program in Seattle to help teachers with affordable housing, two Seattle companies recently announced plans to build at least 1,000 new “workforce apartments” with rents aimed at teachers, firefighters and other midlevel workers.

No similar programs exist for homebuying.

The NCTQ crunched the numbers to see how long teachers, if they saved 10 percent of their salary each year, would need before they could make a 20 percent down payment on a median-priced home.

Beginning teachers in Seattle would need nearly 19 years to save that much on their own, while a five-year teacher with a master’s degree would need 15 years. At the maximum salary offered in Seattle schools, about $94,000, a veteran teacher would have to save for just under 10 years.

The NCTQ analysis also may underestimate the time needed, since it used U.S. Census Bureau data that — at least for Seattle — pegs the median housing value at much less than local home-sale data.

In contrast, a new teacher in Detroit or San Antonio would have to save three years or less to afford a home. That was the shortest time frame that NCTQ found. The longest, at nearly 30 years, was San Francisco.

In the middle, “almost all of the districts in the Midwest and the South pay teachers enough to save for a down payment within 10 years,” the think tank’s report said.