Housing struggle for K-12 teachers in San Francisco

Quentin Coppola

Contributing Writer


For roughly six hours of the day, for about two-thirds of the year, for over a decade, parents entrust children to school teachers.


There is no debate surrounding the importance of K-12 teachers and the pivotal role they play in mentoring future generations. However, there is also little debate about the struggles many of these teachers face in terms of the type of compensation they receive for their work, especially in a city like San Francisco.


San Francisco is beyond notorious for its high cost of living. When this is coupled with teachers’ low salaries, it forces them to rent, rather than own a home in the city. As most SF residents know, finding a one bedroom apartment for under $1,500 a month is more or less a snipe hunt.  According to a study conducted by GO BankingRates, reported by TIME Money, the median cost for a one bedroom apartment in the City is $3,600. For a whole year, renting a single bedroom apartment for $1,500 would eat up nearly half of what teachers make annually. According to the California Department of Education, the average starting salary for an elementary school teacher is a little over $40,000-45,000 across the state, and only $5,000 in SF according to San Francisco’s Unified School District. Comparatively, in the state of California, the average rent of a one bedroom apartment is only $1,750 according to a survey done by Apartment List, Inc.


At Lawton Alternative, a K-8 school in the Outer Sunset, one second grade teacher bears the brunt of the lifestyle tied to being a primary school educator. She and her 14-year-old daughter have lived in the same one bedroom apartment for the last 10 years.


“I would love to move to a two bedroom so my daughter can have her own room, instead of sleeping in the living room,” she said. “I make about $4,000 dollars a month, and I’ll see a 12 percent pay raise in three years, but making as little as I do, that’s not enough to move.”

Our source asked to remain anonymous to protect her teaching position and her public reputation.


On Sept. 1, J.K. Dineen, a reporter for SF Gate, wrote on a decision that, “A Superior Court judge has tossed out a San Francisco city ordinance that made it illegal to evict teachers and child-care providers during the school year.”


This ruling would mean that a teacher that could not make rent, would be evicted from their home without any type of stipulation regarding the consequences. Therefore, teachers, who could not handle the relocation of the eviction, and maintain life in the City, would be forced to move, often too far to return to the classrooms they once taught in. Schools would then be forced to rapidly attempt to fill these empty classrooms, therefore, K-12 students endure the misfortune as well. Fewer teachers force larger classroom sizes, which can decrease personalized learning opportunities and increase student isolation.


Dr. Rick Ayers, a USF professor, works with students in the master’s program working to become K-12 educators. “A tremendous dilemma is going on,” Ayers said. “In much of the nation, the need for teachers is increasing greatly, whereas the number of teachers going into the field is decreasing.” Ayers explained how many soon-to-be teachers are still enthusiastic, even when faced with what he described as “a lot of work with little pay.” Something that has affected even seasoned teachers such as San Francisco school teacher Anthony Arinwine who has to depend on Uber fares to make his $1,700 rent in slightly more affordable Oakland. Arinwine, who teaches at Malcolm X Academy, told USA “It’s something I never thought I’d have to do,” Arinwine said. “I have a college degree and a paycheck. I thought it would be enough.”


This income problem has driven willing and qualified teachers away from San Francisco. The San Francisco Chronicle reported last spring that the San Francisco Unified School District had the highest percentage of K-12 teachers resigning after the 2015-16 school year compared with all other school districts in the state of California.


Ironically, this struggle occurs less often in other high-cost cities. New York City, for example, according to the United Federation of Teachers, has an Annual Percent Raise for the salaries of school teachers. Beginning at the the end of next year, starting salaries will be raised to nearly $55,000, with a maximum salary cap of $112,000. Whereas a teacher in San Francisco could only make up to $92,000 reported by the DOE. San Francisco has also surpassed all major U.S. cities in the price of housing, as reported in the aforementioned Go BankingRates study.  


An increase of this housing problem has triggered call for reform.


The local Bay Area government has made efforts to aid educators living in SF. Less than a month ago, California State Assembly Members David Chiu and Phil Ting’s legislation, SB1413, passed with an overwhelming majority. This senate bill would allow housing to be built on school district properties, providing affordable, subsidized housing for educators. SB1413 also establishes loan programs and and various housing to lower income individuals and families living in high-cost cities.


As hopeful as actions by the City seem, the same second grade teacher at Lawton Alternative,  remains skeptical. “I haven’t seen much in the way of pay raises,” she said. She also had little knowledge of SB1413, and likened it to Teachers Next Door, a loan program that attempted to help educators with housing in SF by providing assisted low-interest, loan programs to pay for apartments. “Those programs, like TND benefit a niche group of teachers. The district hasn’t sent any information about SB1413, nor do I know much about it.”  


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