Housing could lead to teacher shortage


Last updated 8/29/2023 at 9:43am

The average schoolteacher in the U.S. can only afford to buy 12 percent of the homes for sale within a 20-minute drive of their school, down from 17 percent last year, according to a report from real estate broker Redfin. That's less than half of the pre-pandemic levels, when 30 percent of homes near their workplace were affordable to teachers. Likewise, just 27 percent of the available rental properties near their school are affordable.

"The shortage of affordable homes is exacerbating the shortage of teachers," said Redfin Senior Economist Sheharyar Bokhari. "Many teachers who can't afford to buy a house near work are either renting and missing out on the opportunity to build wealth through home equity or leaving education in search of more lucrative careers."

Sisters School District Superintendent Curt Scholl told The Nugget that the potential problem his district is facing is the large number of veteran teachers nearing retirement in the next few years. And he sees home prices in Sisters as a recruiting issue.

According to the National Educators Association, the average public school teacher salary in the U.S. is $66,745.

In general terms, an affordable mortgage is usually twice as much as a person's gross income. As the nearby chart shows, not only teachers, but anybody buying a home in Sisters for the median price of $840,000 would need household income of $194,375 - four times the starting salary of a first-grade teacher in Sisters.

If the new teacher had a spouse and the spouse earned $75,000 they would still be priced out of most Sisters homes even with a $168,000 down payment, an amount few younger households have in savings and investments.

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Teachers' salaries aren't keeping up with inflation and the rising cost of homeownership. In 2021-2022, the average U.S. public school teacher salary increased by two percent from the prior year; adjusted for inflation, however, teachers are making $3,644 less than a decade ago.

With the typical homebuyer's monthly mortgage payment up almost 20 percent from a year ago and a shortage of homes for sale, teachers struggle to find affordable housing, says Investopedia in studying the numbers.

According to a 2021 report by the Oregon Education Association, districts statewide started the 2021-22 school year with significant vacancies. Some were scrambling to fill upwards of 180 unfilled positions. This, multiplied across the state's 197 districts, meant Oregon schools were short thousands of educators, reflecting national trends.

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Nationally there are plenty of teachers. They're just not in the places where needed, due in the largest part to affordability, as here in Sisters where the median home price soared to new highs in July.

"It's important to think of school staffing challenges not as one national shortage, but as innumerable, hyper-local shortages. Because nationally, we have more teachers on a numeric basis than we did before the pandemic, and we have fewer students due to enrollment drops," says Chad Aldeman, a researcher who studies teacher shortages.

Pilot program to the rescue?

Rooted Homes in Bend is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit providing environmentally sustainable and permanently affordable homeownership opportunities for those who contribute to the fabric of the Central Oregon economy and community. They have built or announced plans to build around 100 affordable single-family homes in Central Oregon.

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Their most ambitious undertaking was just previewed in Redmond, 23 units. They are what is known as a community land trust with public and private funding.

Rooted has identified teachers as one group deserving of subsidized housing. We asked Jackie Keogh, Rooted's executive director, how teachers can have preference without violating federal fair housing laws, "We have consulted with civil rights attorneys and are satisfied that we meet the test. Just as veterans received preferential housing assistance, teachers can be treated much the same," she said.

Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce

Rooted has been meeting with the City, County, School District, and Sisters Woodlands, all of whom have been receptive to Rooted bringing its expertise to bear in Sisters. While there are details that would have to be worked out, Sisters Woodlands, a 300-plus mixed-use community under construction in Sisters, hopes to dedicate two homes in its first phase to the concept.

Additional homes in the Woodlands could be added as new phases roll out, its spokesman Kevin Eckert told The Nugget. He and Keogh anticipate the first two homes could be ready for the start of the 2024 school year if all the pieces and players come together.

Oregon lawmakers just passed Senate Bill 279 making it easier and less cost-prohibitive for teachers from other states to work in Oregon. Senate Bill 283 from the same session is an omnibus bill aiming to tackle retention, pay, and several aspects of educator recruitment and hiring practices.

Sisters - The Old West, All Grown Up

Lawmakers said these bills should address staff and substitute shortages, burnout, and barriers to entering public education professions. They add weight to the 2022 session's House Bill 4030 that provided $78 million in grants to support personnel in K-12 schools across the state.


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