- Two school districts want to provide affordable housing for teachers and other government employees.
- A review of housing and salary data, reveals teachers can afford housing in these communities.
- Providing affordable housing for teachers turns school districts into landlords, a profession for which they have no experience.
- Worse yet, providing housing fails to address any of the root causes of how housing costs, such as zoning, regulations on residential development or environmental restrictions.
While teachers were marching in Raleigh for higher pay and more staff, two bills were approved by the House and sent to the Senate designed to give teachers another benefit — affordable rental housing. HB 31 and HB 375 would provide teachers and other local government employees access to affordable housing in Bertie and Durham Counties.
We hear much about how teachers are underpaid. What could be wrong with providing teachers and other government employees with affordable housing to help those who sacrifice a lot to educate our young people?
I have written previously about why offering housing to teachers is bad policy.
Most often affordability programs develop as a tool to help attract and retain teachers. Is that the case here?
Bertie County in Eastern North Carolina, and Durham County in the central part of the state are in different parts of North Carolina. In 2017, median household income in Bertie and Durham Counties was $33,022 and $60,045, respectively. Median household income in North Carolina in 2017 was $50,343.
Is affordability an issue in these areas?
A quick trip to the web site Rentdata.org provides some interesting information. According to the web site, fair market rent in Bertie Count for a one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment is $595 and $683 respectively. Three-bedroom apartments in Bertie County rent for $856/month.
Can Bertie County teachers afford these rents? The lowest paid teachers earn a starting salary of $35,000. Bertie County was one of four counties in North Carolina that offer no teacher salary supplement. Hence, the monthly salary for a starting teacher in Bertie County is $35,000/12 months $2,916.67/month. If we adopt the principle that rent should not exceed 30 percent of gross take-home pay, a beginning teacher could spend up to $875 on an apartment. Under the current rates, Bertie County teachers should be able to afford, a one, two- or three-bedroom apartment.
What about Durham County?
As you might expect, Durham County has a higher cost of living than Bertie County. However, teacher pay is higher there. Like Bertie County, starting teachers in Durham earn a salary of $35,000. However, they also receive an average local salary supplement of $6,931. Hence starting salaries are $41,931. Averaged over 12 months, a starting salary for a teacher in Durham Public Schools is $3,494. Applying the 30 percent figure for rent means teachers could spend up to $1,048/month on rent. According to Rentdata.org, the average monthly rent of a one-and two-bedroom apartment in Durham is $847 and $990 respectively.
Aside from failing to address the real issue of affordability, the legislation is problematic for other reasons. Data from Bertie County shows affordability is clearly not an issue. Bertie County’s problem seems to be not affordability but getting people to move to the county. That’s a different issue altogether. According to a 2016 U.S. Census estimate, between 2010 and 2016, the population in Bertie County declined 6.7 percent, falling from 21,282 (2010) to 19,854 (2016).
I’m not against helping teachers. However, is school-owned affordable housing for teachers and government employees really the best solution? Offering housing turns the school district into a landlord, a business in which they have no experience or expertise.
Both bills (HB 31 and HB 375) offer teachers the opportunity to rent housing at below market rates. The bills also make available the opportunity to rent if individuals are members of the school district (HB 31) or if individuals are employed by county, state or local government (HB 375). This is a bad idea. As currently written there is no income threshold or eligibility requirement to ensure middle- and upper-income teachers or government employees can’t access the program.
Teachers aren’t the only professionals who have complaints about the cost of housing in many places. However, even if you think affordability is the main issue, wouldn’t it be easier to just raise the pay of teachers most likely to qualify for the program? A pay raise doesn’t require construction, hiring a property agent and daily upkeep and maintenance. Lastly and most importantly, this legislation is problematic because it really does little to redress the issue of why housing costs are so high in many parts of the country. High housing costs are usually the product of rent control, excessive regulation, overzealous zoning, regulations that make new construction more expensive and environmental laws which limit new development.
HB 31 and HB 375 do nothing to address any of these problems. Instead, the bills expand government yet again and then say only teachers and government employees are eligible for the benefits. Is that right?
Policymakers who want to help struggling teachers should resist the temptation to build special housing. Reasonable, less expensive solutions are available. Municipalities should ensure zoning and other regulations don’t prevent the housing stock from expanding. There are examples of private companies successfully working together to help address the high cost of housing for teachers and other public employees, with little or no cost to taxpayers. Increasing teacher pay, providing a housing voucher or expanding eligibility for other existing housing programs are all preferable to building teacher housing.
Turning local governments into a landlord for teachers and government employees is an idea that deserves to be put to rest.