Last week the News & Observer reported on how Durham Public Schools (DPS) is debating a proposal to build 24 one and two bedroom apartments and then rent them to teachers at below market rates. When completed, the complex could eventually grow to 72 apartments. DPS would partner with a local Durham housing non-profit and the State Employees Credit Union to complete the project.
The article profiles a new Durham teacher who, makes $35,000 and is working two jobs so she can afford a safe place near South Point Mall. Her rent is $1,000 a month, $25 higher than the average in Durham.
DPS says the housing proposal is in response to a lack of affordable housing for those living on a teacher’s salary. The district is also hoping to reduce the DPS teacher turnover rate (18 percent), which is currently almost twice the state average (9 percent).
I’m all for helping teachers. However, I’d tap the brakes on building housing until a few questions are answered.
DPS said it’s trying to reduce the teacher attrition rate. Let’s remember however there are many reasons why teachers leave jobs and not all of them are bad. The teacher turnover survey was revamped last year. One of the things the data showed, was that the average teacher who left her school last year had slightly lower than average EVAAS test scores. Before DPS invests in housing they should make sure they know the reason teachers are leaving the district is because of the cost of living and not because someone’s husband got a job transfer. Right now, the 18 percent figure doesn’t answer any of those questions.
The N&O article profiled a new Durham teacher struggling to make ends meet on an annual salary of $35,000. According to North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Statistical Profile Online, in 2016-17 DPS provided teachers a local salary supplement of $6,586. DPS reported that the district has 2,322 teachers and local salary supplements were paid to 2,299 teachers. As the supplement is in addition to the regular salary, the teachers’ real income is $41,586, a figure that looks much better than $35,000.
Is housing unaffordable in Durham? The teacher profiled in the article paid $1,000 a month for a 1-bedroom apartment. That’s $25 more than the average monthly area rent of $975. Is it crisis because someone pays slightly more than the average to live in a better place?
In the very same week the DPS story was run, the News & Observer reported that the Raleigh-Durham area was a top tech hub for employees because of the availability of affordable housing.
Housing crisis? If the teacher’s salary is indeed $41,586 per year, a ten month contract would provide monthly income of $4,158. If rent should comprise about 30 percent of household income, this leaves $1,247 a month for housing. On a twelve month contract, the same individual would have $1,039 available for housing. If the individual in the story only earned $35,000 wouldn’t it be a far better solution for DPS to simply provide a raise for teachers on the low end of the salary scale?
It would also get DPS out of a business it shouldn’t be in: housing.