While you’re complaining about the traffic pileup as you drive past the local elementary school on your morning commute, you might not think about the bus driver who had to drive more than an hour to work that morning because he or she can’t afford to live in the school district.
That scenario is a reality for almost all bus drivers and a very similar experience for many other members of a school’s staff, according to a new study.
In Paycheck to Paycheck 2016, a study by the National Housing Conference’s Center for Housing Policy, researchers highlight the ability of five common school workers — the bus driver, child care teacher, groundskeeper, social worker, and high school teacher — to afford a median-priced home in more than 200 metro areas.
High School Teachers Have It Best. On a median annual salary of $60,610, high school teachers could afford rent in 198 of the areas, or about 94%. However, they could only afford to pay mortgage for a median-priced two-bedroom home in just over half — 130 — of the 210 metro areas analyzed.
Bus Drivers, Not So Much. At the other extreme, the findings show that it’s virtually impossible for a bus driver making a median income in a single-income household to afford to rent or pay mortgage for a two-bedroom home in any of the 210 metro areas. The median annual national salary for bus drivers is $23,412, far less than the national median income of $53,483. The low wages make finding housing even more difficult.
Child Care Teachers. The study found that child care teachers, whose median national salary is $29,539, only make enough to afford rent on a standard two-bedroom home in 9 of the 210 metro areas, or only 4%. Living in the Bay Area in California, for example, would eat up about 75% of a child care teacher’s income in rent. Homeownership is almost equally difficult to achieve, with child care teachers at a median income unable to afford a mortgage in 94% of the metro areas.
Groundskeepers and Social Workers.
Groundskeepers earn a median $34,214, or 64% of the national median income, which makes them barely better off than child care teachers and bus drivers when it comes to affording housing. Groundskeepers could only afford to rent a home in 57 of the 210 metro areas and to own a home in only 25 metro areas.
Social workers, who may be assigned to multiple schools and sometimes multiple districts, are a little more housing-secure at a national median annual salary of $52,538. The average social worker could afford to rent a two-bedroom home in 90% of the metro areas, but could own a home in just above half, or 110 of the 210 areas.
Why We Should Care
Affordable housing for school workers matters, the study authors argue.
The consequences of unaffordable housing are more than an increased transportation expense for the school worker. Implications for a community can be numerous, ranging from losing good talent to having fewer extracurricular opportunities for kids in the district.
Janet Viveiros, the acting director of research at the National Housing Conference, noted that some school workers may reject a job offer from a school in a district with high housing costs simply because they won’t be paid enough to afford housing in the school district.
“If someone is facing a long commute every day, they may be unable or unwilling to take on additional responsibilities like coaching or mentoring,” Viveiros said. “Bus drivers may not be willing to take on an extra shift for extracurriculars.”
Measuring Housing Affordability
The researchers defined “affordable” as the ability to spend no more than 30% of the household’s income on rent and utilities or up to 28% of the household’s income on a mortgage.
When workers are able to keep housing costs below those limits, it “means that you have more money available for healthy food, for medical services” and other improvements to one’s quality of life, Viveiros said.
For the study, researchers only measured affordability for households where the school worker was the sole earner.
How Can School Workers Save?
Several federal and state-backed initiatives have been created to help school workers and other low-income workers afford housing in the communities they serve. Knowing your options and resources can help you save on housing costs.
For example, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program exists to subsidize new construction or rehabilitation of homes, or offer down payment assistance loans or grants. The assistance applies to households that make 80% or less of the area’s median income, a demographic which many of the workers in the study would fall into.
The Federal Housing Administration also offers low-cost financing for first-time homebuyers and lower-income households. FHA loans can lower the down payment to 3.5% of the home’s purchase price.
The Affordable Housing Program, run by the Federal Home Loan Banks, provides funding through member banks for the purchase, construction, or rehabilitation of homes owned by low- or moderate-income households.
The Housing Choice Vouchers Program (formerly Section 8) is the dominant federal rent subsidy program. It serves more than 3 million household and makes housing affordable by paying the difference between what a household can afford and the actual rent, up to a limit determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. However, the program is underfunded as only 1 in 4 households eligible are able to receive the help they need.
Multiple levels of programs and policies can be more beneficial to an area, as resources are slim and many programs lack sufficient funding for all who may qualify. Some states have their own programs as additional sources of assistance.
“There’s not one program at the federal level, state, or local level,” said Viveiros. “It’s really about pulling together a variety of policies and programs” from all levels of government.
Massachusetts has the ONE Mortgage Program, which combines down payment assistance to help first-time, low-income homebuyers save on fees and mortgage insurance. It also gives an interest rate buydown into a single mortgage. The state also has a Rental Voucher Program, which is a lot like the federal Housing Choice Vouchers Program.
In Minnesota, the Minnesota Housing Trust Fund assists with rental assistance for low-income households.
Education-Specific Policies and Programs
Some state and local governments have created programs and policies that address the specific affordable housing needs of education workers in their area.
The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority has a program specific to educators called the Teachers Mortgage Assistance Program. The program gives below market rate loans to teachers who work in districts that have a hard time attracting teachers. In addition to the low rate, teachers under this program also automatically qualify for a down payment assistance loan from the CHFA.
The Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation’s program provides low-cost loans and down payment assistance to a variety of education professionals. The program also offers a first-time homebuyer tax credit that allows school workers to claim up to $2,000 of their annual interest payments as a tax credit each year.
In 2016, San Francisco — the most expensive metro area in the country — began Teacher Next Door. The program gives a forgivable loan to educators working in the city’s school district who are first-time homebuyers. Also in California — where we found the nine least affordable housing districts in the U.S. — the Los Angeles Unified School District is repurposing public land to create three housing developments to ensure its staff has affordable rental housing. The district’s program is open to all of its direct staff.
What More Can Be Done?
Viveiros said the key is “creating communities that offer housing affordable at a number of different income levels and offering housing of different types” to present a mix of affordable price points.
Thinking as a community can help create solutions, Viveiros said. She recommends that parents and other community members “lend their voice to the need for affordable housing in their community” by attending and speaking up at zoning meetings.
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