News

Housing insecurity

Local teachers struggle to get by with high rents and home prices

Kelly Dolan rises at 5 a.m. on school days to begin his commute from Fremont to Woodside High School, where he teaches history. He can't afford to buy a house or live closer to school. He's worried he might get in a traffic accident, and says he doesn't get much sleep.

Dolan, 38, is not alone. Housing costs in the Bay Area have exploded. The median home sale price for a single-family home in San Mateo County is $1.4 million, a 109 percent increase from the 2011 median sale price of $685,000, according to the San Mateo County Association of Realtors. A one-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County now rents for $3,048 on average, up 63 percent from 2011, according to RENTCafe.com, an online real estate listing service. This makes it financially difficult for teachers to live in the area.

Teachers are responding to the difficulty with lengthly commutes, extra jobs and difficult living situations. The side effects of these choices include isolation from students, spending hours on the road and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Others choose to quit teaching or move out of the Bay Area.

The Menlo Park City School District found that 34 percent of teachers and staff who left the district at the end of the 2017-18 school year did so because of long commutes and the high cost of living in the area. This led the district to draft a compensation philosophy, one that underscores the value of teachers and that, according to board members, could be an initial step toward introducing a bond measure to raise teacher pay.

The Almanac interviewed 15 teachers about the difficulties they face paying rent or mortgages in the Bay Area on their salaries. The teachers work in public schools in Atherton, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, Woodside, Belmont and Redwood City.

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Hours of commuting

Teachers in the area are driving long distances to get to work. This is adding to extra stress in their lives and leaves them with less time for both family and students.

Lisa Prodromo, 48, an English teacher at Woodside High School, commutes from San Lorenzo, about 30 miles from Woodside. Her drive to work takes about an hour. If she doesn't leave school at 3:30 p.m. on the dot, she won't be home until 6:30 p.m, she said.

She advises two clubs during lunch, but doesn't have the same connection to students that she did when she was able to stay after school to mentor them.

Prodromo said, however, that "when you find a school like this, you don't want to leave."

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Carlmont High teacher David Talcott not only spends time behind the wheel on his long commute from the East Bay, he also spends around an hour and half each way on BART. That train journey is sandwiched between car trips from his Antioch home to the nearest BART station, and from the San Bruno BART station to Belmont, adding up to a round-trip daily commute time of nearly five hours.

Extra jobs, instability

Teachers are taking on extra work outside of their day-to-day teaching jobs, sometimes just to get by.

Carlmont English teacher Kristen Fewins Hanson, 28, worked as a waitress on the weekends, while teaching full time, to save for a house. She's always had to live with roommates, she said.

She said she loves her job, students and apartment, but can't see herself being able to buy a house in the area.

"For me personally, it feels like the dream of owning a house is so far away," said Fewins Hanson, who now lives in San Mateo with her husband. "The reality is I'm saving, but most likely going to have to move away" to be able to buy a house, she said.

Kerry Keplinger Northen, 32, a math and robotics teacher at Corte Madera School in Portola Valley, has moved often because of rent increases. She fears her rent could go up again when her lease ends in February, and said she's concerned that these moves will be "really disruptive" to her daughter.

Keplinger Northen tutors once a week "to make some extra money so we can eat," she said.

When people are insecure in their housing situations, they're not going to be able to give the emotional or mental energy to their job, said John Davenport, 58, a social studies teacher at Corte Madera and the Portola Valley Teachers Association president.

"If you come to work every day concerned about your mortgage, commute, wear and tear on your car and gas, your performance is obviously going to be impacted," he said. "It may not be impacted to the point where test scores drop, but (these things are) still going to be on your mind."

Feeling stuck

Some teachers are holding onto apartments that they might already have grown out of because it would cost too much to move into a new place.

Kari Brown, 33, a physics teacher at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, said she can't move out of her two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Foster City, which is $1,000 below market rate. Her commute time has doubled since 2011 — it's 45 minutes to school on a good day. More space would help with Brown's growing family — she is expecting her second child in March.

But rents have also increased. In Foster City rents rose 51 percent since 2011. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in that town was $3,528 in November, according to RENTCafe.com.

"I have a six-figure income and you'd think that'd be enough to survive," she said. "It's frustrating because I feel very trapped."

The resources the Bay Area offers make it hard to leave. She relies on Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford for specialty care for her "medically complicated" son who suffers from seizures.

Brown craves the stability of owning a home and having a fixed mortgage. She has considered HEART, the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust, a local housing assistance program that will cover 5 percent of a 10 percent down payment. She hopes to buy a home in the next couple of years, but may only be able to afford onefarther north in Daly City, Pacifica or San Bruno.

"The commute from there is not pretty — it may be sustainable in terms of cost, but maybe not sanity," she said.

Leaving teaching, the area

Other teachers are so fed up with high housing costs that they've left their districts.

Marissa Potts, 39, packed her bags and left her teaching job at Woodside High School at the end of last school year. She relocated to Bellevue, Washington, where she is teaching English. She now pays $1,800 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, much less than the $2,750 she'd have to pay to stay in the one-bedroom apartment where she lived in San Jose.

"I left because at nearly 40 years old, I was not able to save money by continuing to live in the Bay Area," Potts said. "I feel that at almost 40, I shouldn't have to be forced to have a roommate in order to afford rent."

Potts misses her family and friends, but said her new colleagues are welcoming.

"I loved, loved, loved working at Woodside, but I knew that I had to take care of myself first and foremost and move," she said. "Here I can save for a house, know that it is within the realm of possibility for me to even think about buying a one, save for retirement, and discover what I like to talk about instead of money woes."

Others are finding new careers to support their families.

Kyle McCabe, 32, left his teaching job at Sequoia High School for a technology sales job at startup TigerGraph in Redwood City last month.

McCabe wanted more stability for his newborn daughter. "It was a bummer to tell my students and staff, but everybody understands it," said McCabe, who taught at Sequoia for two and half years. "Everybody knows what teachers are up against. Everyone tells teachers: 'you must have so much patience,' but everyone knows you don't make enough money. And we (Sequoia district teachers) make the most in the area."

How districts are responding

School districts are finding different solutions to the housing difficulties their teachers face.

The Sequoia and the Woodside elementary school districts work with a down payment assistance program aimed at teachers. The program, Landed, lends 10 percent of the cost of the home and requires the buyer put down the same amount, bringing the total down payment to 20 percent of the cost of the home.

Landed plans to expand to other professionals, but started with educators because they are "pillars of our community," said Alex Lofton, the company's co-founder and head of growth. Landed also wanted to start in the Bay Area, where teachers are hit hardest by the cost of housing, he said.

The Landed program didn't work for Dolan, the history teacher at Woodside. First, it's "not a gift," but a down payment loan, and Landed retains the right to oversee modifications on the property, he said. Also, Landed gets 25 percent of the investment gains or losses and shares ownership of the home.

The Portola Valley School District's Lane Housing Assistance Program started in 2001. It offers teachers up to a $10,000 interest-free loan for a rental and $20,000 for a home purchase.

Teacher housing

Nearby school districts are tackling the issue by building teacher housing.

The San Mateo County Community College District built housing to attract and retain faculty and staff. It owns and operates 104 housing units at College of San Mateo (opened in 2005) and Canada College (opened in 2010), which are available to faculty and staff. The district will open 40 more units at Skyline College in 2020.

Rents average about 50 percent below market rate, according to Mitch Bailey, the chancellor's chief of staff. The district rents its one-bedroom units for about $1,100 and three-bedroom units for about $1,800.

Employees can live in these units for up to seven years and are encouraged to save the money from their reduced rent to apply toward a down payment to buy a house in the area. Employees who have bought a house in the past aren't eligible for this housing.

The program is not a silver bullet, but it's the district's "little bit of effort" toward easing the immediate housing problem, Bailey said. There are about 250 employees on the waiting list, he said. The district employs about 950 full-time workers.

School districts in The Almanac's coverage area don't offer teacher housing, but the Sequoia high school district has considered it.

District leaders have "great interest in faculty housing," said Superintendent Mary Streshly. The district is always looking for property because it's always looking for land for schools as well, she said. There's an interest in joint housing ventures, but if the district doesn't own the land, fair housing issues would arise from earmarking housing for teachers only, she said.

But not all teachers find district-owned teacher housing appealing.

"I guess it's a creative solution, but it feels like a return to feudalism — it makes you beholden to the district," said Brown, the M-A physics teacher.

What does the future look like?

The quality of education in the area will suffer if teachers can't afford to live in the area, teachers and experts told The Almanac.

Deborah McKoy, director of University of California at Berkeley's Center for Cities and Schools, studies the impact of housing prices in the Bay Area on schools. She said solutions to the affordability of housing for teachers in the area are specific to individual districts. If a district has vacant school buildings, it's most sensible to build housing on its own land.

Housing solutions such as backyard in-law units might not be what teachers want, she said.

"There will be teachers (who) say: 'I deserve more than living in a rebuilt garage. I'm teaching your children for the future,'" McKoy said. "It's a fair point; we really have to see teachers as the professionals they are."

Jake Messina, 46, a social studies teacher and head football coach at Carlmont, believes that politicians don't think the lack of affordable housing for teachers is a real problem.

"They think service jobs are always magically going to be filled," he said. "And that teachers are just going to commute from wherever they're living. There's always a tipping point and you're going to end up with a real problem."

See related stories:

Four teachers, four stories

Why are rents so high?

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Housing insecurity

Local teachers struggle to get by with high rents and home prices

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 20, 2018, 7:09 pm

Kelly Dolan rises at 5 a.m. on school days to begin his commute from Fremont to Woodside High School, where he teaches history. He can't afford to buy a house or live closer to school. He's worried he might get in a traffic accident, and says he doesn't get much sleep.

Dolan, 38, is not alone. Housing costs in the Bay Area have exploded. The median home sale price for a single-family home in San Mateo County is $1.4 million, a 109 percent increase from the 2011 median sale price of $685,000, according to the San Mateo County Association of Realtors. A one-bedroom apartment in San Mateo County now rents for $3,048 on average, up 63 percent from 2011, according to RENTCafe.com, an online real estate listing service. This makes it financially difficult for teachers to live in the area.

Teachers are responding to the difficulty with lengthly commutes, extra jobs and difficult living situations. The side effects of these choices include isolation from students, spending hours on the road and living paycheck-to-paycheck. Others choose to quit teaching or move out of the Bay Area.

The Menlo Park City School District found that 34 percent of teachers and staff who left the district at the end of the 2017-18 school year did so because of long commutes and the high cost of living in the area. This led the district to draft a compensation philosophy, one that underscores the value of teachers and that, according to board members, could be an initial step toward introducing a bond measure to raise teacher pay.

The Almanac interviewed 15 teachers about the difficulties they face paying rent or mortgages in the Bay Area on their salaries. The teachers work in public schools in Atherton, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, Woodside, Belmont and Redwood City.

Hours of commuting

Teachers in the area are driving long distances to get to work. This is adding to extra stress in their lives and leaves them with less time for both family and students.

Lisa Prodromo, 48, an English teacher at Woodside High School, commutes from San Lorenzo, about 30 miles from Woodside. Her drive to work takes about an hour. If she doesn't leave school at 3:30 p.m. on the dot, she won't be home until 6:30 p.m, she said.

She advises two clubs during lunch, but doesn't have the same connection to students that she did when she was able to stay after school to mentor them.

Prodromo said, however, that "when you find a school like this, you don't want to leave."

Carlmont High teacher David Talcott not only spends time behind the wheel on his long commute from the East Bay, he also spends around an hour and half each way on BART. That train journey is sandwiched between car trips from his Antioch home to the nearest BART station, and from the San Bruno BART station to Belmont, adding up to a round-trip daily commute time of nearly five hours.

Extra jobs, instability

Teachers are taking on extra work outside of their day-to-day teaching jobs, sometimes just to get by.

Carlmont English teacher Kristen Fewins Hanson, 28, worked as a waitress on the weekends, while teaching full time, to save for a house. She's always had to live with roommates, she said.

She said she loves her job, students and apartment, but can't see herself being able to buy a house in the area.

"For me personally, it feels like the dream of owning a house is so far away," said Fewins Hanson, who now lives in San Mateo with her husband. "The reality is I'm saving, but most likely going to have to move away" to be able to buy a house, she said.

Kerry Keplinger Northen, 32, a math and robotics teacher at Corte Madera School in Portola Valley, has moved often because of rent increases. She fears her rent could go up again when her lease ends in February, and said she's concerned that these moves will be "really disruptive" to her daughter.

Keplinger Northen tutors once a week "to make some extra money so we can eat," she said.

When people are insecure in their housing situations, they're not going to be able to give the emotional or mental energy to their job, said John Davenport, 58, a social studies teacher at Corte Madera and the Portola Valley Teachers Association president.

"If you come to work every day concerned about your mortgage, commute, wear and tear on your car and gas, your performance is obviously going to be impacted," he said. "It may not be impacted to the point where test scores drop, but (these things are) still going to be on your mind."

Feeling stuck

Some teachers are holding onto apartments that they might already have grown out of because it would cost too much to move into a new place.

Kari Brown, 33, a physics teacher at Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, said she can't move out of her two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in Foster City, which is $1,000 below market rate. Her commute time has doubled since 2011 — it's 45 minutes to school on a good day. More space would help with Brown's growing family — she is expecting her second child in March.

But rents have also increased. In Foster City rents rose 51 percent since 2011. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in that town was $3,528 in November, according to RENTCafe.com.

"I have a six-figure income and you'd think that'd be enough to survive," she said. "It's frustrating because I feel very trapped."

The resources the Bay Area offers make it hard to leave. She relies on Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford for specialty care for her "medically complicated" son who suffers from seizures.

Brown craves the stability of owning a home and having a fixed mortgage. She has considered HEART, the Housing Endowment and Regional Trust, a local housing assistance program that will cover 5 percent of a 10 percent down payment. She hopes to buy a home in the next couple of years, but may only be able to afford onefarther north in Daly City, Pacifica or San Bruno.

"The commute from there is not pretty — it may be sustainable in terms of cost, but maybe not sanity," she said.

Leaving teaching, the area

Other teachers are so fed up with high housing costs that they've left their districts.

Marissa Potts, 39, packed her bags and left her teaching job at Woodside High School at the end of last school year. She relocated to Bellevue, Washington, where she is teaching English. She now pays $1,800 per month for a two-bedroom apartment, much less than the $2,750 she'd have to pay to stay in the one-bedroom apartment where she lived in San Jose.

"I left because at nearly 40 years old, I was not able to save money by continuing to live in the Bay Area," Potts said. "I feel that at almost 40, I shouldn't have to be forced to have a roommate in order to afford rent."

Potts misses her family and friends, but said her new colleagues are welcoming.

"I loved, loved, loved working at Woodside, but I knew that I had to take care of myself first and foremost and move," she said. "Here I can save for a house, know that it is within the realm of possibility for me to even think about buying a one, save for retirement, and discover what I like to talk about instead of money woes."

Others are finding new careers to support their families.

Kyle McCabe, 32, left his teaching job at Sequoia High School for a technology sales job at startup TigerGraph in Redwood City last month.

McCabe wanted more stability for his newborn daughter. "It was a bummer to tell my students and staff, but everybody understands it," said McCabe, who taught at Sequoia for two and half years. "Everybody knows what teachers are up against. Everyone tells teachers: 'you must have so much patience,' but everyone knows you don't make enough money. And we (Sequoia district teachers) make the most in the area."

How districts are responding

School districts are finding different solutions to the housing difficulties their teachers face.

The Sequoia and the Woodside elementary school districts work with a down payment assistance program aimed at teachers. The program, Landed, lends 10 percent of the cost of the home and requires the buyer put down the same amount, bringing the total down payment to 20 percent of the cost of the home.

Landed plans to expand to other professionals, but started with educators because they are "pillars of our community," said Alex Lofton, the company's co-founder and head of growth. Landed also wanted to start in the Bay Area, where teachers are hit hardest by the cost of housing, he said.

The Landed program didn't work for Dolan, the history teacher at Woodside. First, it's "not a gift," but a down payment loan, and Landed retains the right to oversee modifications on the property, he said. Also, Landed gets 25 percent of the investment gains or losses and shares ownership of the home.

The Portola Valley School District's Lane Housing Assistance Program started in 2001. It offers teachers up to a $10,000 interest-free loan for a rental and $20,000 for a home purchase.

Teacher housing

Nearby school districts are tackling the issue by building teacher housing.

The San Mateo County Community College District built housing to attract and retain faculty and staff. It owns and operates 104 housing units at College of San Mateo (opened in 2005) and Canada College (opened in 2010), which are available to faculty and staff. The district will open 40 more units at Skyline College in 2020.

Rents average about 50 percent below market rate, according to Mitch Bailey, the chancellor's chief of staff. The district rents its one-bedroom units for about $1,100 and three-bedroom units for about $1,800.

Employees can live in these units for up to seven years and are encouraged to save the money from their reduced rent to apply toward a down payment to buy a house in the area. Employees who have bought a house in the past aren't eligible for this housing.

The program is not a silver bullet, but it's the district's "little bit of effort" toward easing the immediate housing problem, Bailey said. There are about 250 employees on the waiting list, he said. The district employs about 950 full-time workers.

School districts in The Almanac's coverage area don't offer teacher housing, but the Sequoia high school district has considered it.

District leaders have "great interest in faculty housing," said Superintendent Mary Streshly. The district is always looking for property because it's always looking for land for schools as well, she said. There's an interest in joint housing ventures, but if the district doesn't own the land, fair housing issues would arise from earmarking housing for teachers only, she said.

But not all teachers find district-owned teacher housing appealing.

"I guess it's a creative solution, but it feels like a return to feudalism — it makes you beholden to the district," said Brown, the M-A physics teacher.

What does the future look like?

The quality of education in the area will suffer if teachers can't afford to live in the area, teachers and experts told The Almanac.

Deborah McKoy, director of University of California at Berkeley's Center for Cities and Schools, studies the impact of housing prices in the Bay Area on schools. She said solutions to the affordability of housing for teachers in the area are specific to individual districts. If a district has vacant school buildings, it's most sensible to build housing on its own land.

Housing solutions such as backyard in-law units might not be what teachers want, she said.

"There will be teachers (who) say: 'I deserve more than living in a rebuilt garage. I'm teaching your children for the future,'" McKoy said. "It's a fair point; we really have to see teachers as the professionals they are."

Jake Messina, 46, a social studies teacher and head football coach at Carlmont, believes that politicians don't think the lack of affordable housing for teachers is a real problem.

"They think service jobs are always magically going to be filled," he said. "And that teachers are just going to commute from wherever they're living. There's always a tipping point and you're going to end up with a real problem."

See related stories:

Four teachers, four stories

Why are rents so high?

Comments

Andrew Lee
another community
on Dec 21, 2018 at 11:34 am
Andrew Lee, another community
on Dec 21, 2018 at 11:34 am

This is such a sad state of affairs. I know many teachers in my town of San Mateo suffering from these same issues. It is shameful. When will we as a community step up and stop fighting housing being built? When will we do something for those who educate our children?


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