Affordability crisis hurts SF teachers 

May is National Teacher Appreciation Month. It is a time when we remind teachers how important they are in shaping our paths, post glowing tributes on our Facebook pages and thank them for believing in us when no one else did.

Yet here in San Francisco, many teachers are asking for something even more basic than an apple from their favorite student: the ability to stay and live in the city where they teach.

San Francisco is in the middle of a housing affordability crisis, earning the dreadful distinction of the least affordable housing market in the country.

With median housing prices of $1 million and median rental prices of roughly $3,000 for a one-bedroom home, a recent study confirms that there isn’t a single house or one-bedroom apartment in the entire city of San Francisco affordable for an average teacher.

Without other options, an increasing percentage of San Francisco school staff members live outside The City, and that number keeps climbing for new hires. Even when they find a way to stay in San Francisco, the high cost of housing puts many educators in untenable situations, sometimes sleeping on couches or in cars, causing instability, uncertainty and stress. This is bad for both teachers and students.

Roughly 50 percent of teachers in San Francisco leave the position after five years — the difficulty of affording housing in the city where they teach is clearly a factor. High levels of school staff turnover, particularly in our lowest-performing schools, make it incredibly difficult to build the supportive school communities with well-trained, experienced staff that we need.

Whether staying late, coming in early or simply bumping into their students at the local grocery store, being able to live in their school community makes a big difference in gaining understanding, earning trust and serving students effectively.

There are specific things that we can do to address this crisis.

First, San Francisco teachers should be paid more. Our superintendent and school board president have already committed to a goal of increasing salaries for San Francisco’s educators.

But while a salary increase is a critical first step, given our chronically underfunded education system and the legacy of Proposition 13, it will not be enough.

Second, The City should prioritize workforce housing affordable for San Francisco’s middle class, including teachers. Most teachers exist within a sort of doughnut hole of San Francisco’s housing market, making too much to qualify for affordable housing, but much too little to afford anything market rate.

Third, San Francisco operates a number of important programs to assist first-time homebuyers. One of these, the Teacher Next Door Program, offers up to $20,000 to teachers to assist with the purchase of their first homes. This program is seeing increased demand at the same time that the funds are nearly depleted. This program should be renewed and expanded, perhaps modeled on a new city program for first responders that provides up to $100,000 in assistance.

Fourth, we should explore collaborative ways to provide rental assistance and enhance eviction protections for tenants, as the large majority of our educators that live in San Francisco are renters. Private businesses could even contribute to a rental assistance fund to help educators stay in San Francisco.

Fifth, the city and school district should get serious about building housing specifically for teachers. Santa Clara, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Newark, N.J., have all built or are in the process of building teacher housing communities. If they can do it, why can’t we?

Finally, to San Francisco’s landlords: Please do not evict our teachers! When you do, you cause ripple effects in our community that are deep and irreparable. The future of our city’s children should be at least as important as your bottom line.

Teachers work tirelessly for our city’s children every day. The least we can do for them is to ensure that they can live here in the community that they serve.

Matt Haney is a member of the Board of Education for the San Francisco Unified School District, and a lecturer and education fellow at the Institute of Design at Stanford University.

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