Making Housing More Affordable for Denver Educators

June 21, 2016 by

This blog was written by Kim Knous-Dolan, formerly Associate Director at DK.

These headlines are from the Denver Post just in the last month: "Colorado Population Growth Far Outstripped New Housing, Census says"; "College-educated Denver Millennials Need 15 Years to Save for a Down Payment"; and "Denver Apartment Rents Reach New Highs." The message is clear: the Denver housing market is exploding. For young professionals, specifically newer teachers seeking to work in Denver Public Schools (DPS), this news can be a deterrent. In the 2015-2016 school year, DPS hired 900 new teachers. About 60 percent of those new hires are teachers new to teaching.

Like many urban districts, Denver is experiencing teacher shortages, with the demand for great talent increasing every year. Data from the 2012-2013 school year shows more than 20% of DPS teachers leave each year, and half of all teachers leave the district within three years of being hired. 

While the reasons for leaving DPS are numerous and complex, for many teachers, workload sustainability and not getting the support they need are top reasons (according to 2014-15 Collaborate data). Moving and compensation also appear as key reasons for leaving and open-ended responses indicate that the cost-of-living in Denver is too high. In general, many teachers leave the profession often because they find teaching to be both financially and personally unsustainable. 

Studies have shown that teacher turnover has a negative effect on student outcomes and learning, and high rates of staff turnover in particularly impacted schools can be quite detrimental. 

In an effort to address the strain of financial instability on new teachers, we, the community of Denver, should take significant steps to ease this burden by reducing the cost of living. Plus, several of the proposed housing solutions below may also address the need to make the profession more "personally sustainable" as well. 

Nationally, other cities with high costs of living, as well as rural areas with low housing inventory, have taken steps to address the high cost of housing for educators. Several studies point to the effectiveness that these efforts have had on both teacher recruitment and retention. Programs like The Union Mill shared teacher initiative in Baltimore not only provide financial support, but they also create community and professional support among educators. In Santa Clara, CA, where the housing costs are often prohibitive for teachers, the district sees an average of 24% turnover annually, as compared to only 8% attrition for teachers who live in the subsidized apartments. 

According to an Ed Week Article about a rural North Carolina teacher housing initiative, "the majority of the teachers, both current and former residents, reported that affordable housing influenced their decision to stay and teach in the area. More than half agreed that the low rent allows them to live comfortably, and that the housing program contributed to their job satisfaction." 

There is also a lot of power in having teachers live in the communities in which they are serving. This creates a deeper sense of community and being more intimately connected to the work and lives of students. Mayor Hancock has identified affordable housing as a key priority and the City asserts that people should have the ability to live in the community in which they work and serve. 

  • In DPS in 2015-16, a novice teacher with a bachelor’s degree had a base salary of $39,850, or $43,729 with a master’s degree (with opportunities to earn more in hard-to-staff positions or higher-poverty schools). Both teaching assistants and teacher residents – the future pipeline for teachers – make considerably less, often in the $20K-$30K range. 
  • Average rental rates in Denver are $1,291 per month and with a starting teacher salary of $39,850 (not including ProComp dollars), this would be about 40% of a teachers’ salary going to housing. This greatly exceeds the "affordability" standard of 30%.

Local solutions could include a mix of strategies ranging in complexity and investment. A first step might be to hire a housing navigator to help educators who are new to the job or relocating to Denver find affordable housing near the schools in which they are working, or along transportation corridors. 

Another idea is to leverage the shared economy by creating an Airbnb campaign to match empty nesters or other Denver residents who have rooms to rent with teachers in need. This would help match supply with demand at an affordable rate and also helps ground teachers into a community much faster. 

Some longer-term solutions could also include: 

  • Bonds – City and/or school district bond projects could support educator housing, including building on top of existing (newer) school buildings or soon-to-be-built school buildings. 
  • Public/Private Partnership – Renovate existing facilities (e.g. empty school buildings) and/or utilize donated land to provide subsidized teacher housing. Ongoing conversations are happening to see which DPS, city, or state land properties may be ripe for an educator housing development. 
  • DPS could also partner with management companies to subsidize the cost of hard-to-rent units in desirable buildings. Financially, DPS could use a pay for success model where up-front investment pays for itself with higher teacher retention rates. 

If you have ideas to share as we continue to explore this topic, please contact Paula