School House

A rendering of Soledad Unified School District’s employee housing. The proposal includes a two-story building with 20 one- or two-bedroom units. Parking will be included onsite.

Finding a room or home to rent in Monterey County can be challenging, especially for an entry-level professional who just moved to the area. Looking for a home can almost feel like a part-time job, and many landlords require first and last month’s rent, plus a security deposit. Rent – if you’re lucky – can be less than 50 percent of your income.

Deneen Guss, Monterey County Superintendent of Schools, says the lack of affordable housing and high cost of living makes it more challenging for local school districts, especially those in rural areas, to attract and retain new teachers. Increasingly, school administrators are looking at offering affordable housing as a game-changer for prospective teachers, especially those who are just starting their careers. Soledad Unified School District Superintendent Randy Bangs says renting a place below market rate can entice employees, including for the long term, if they stay and eventually become homeowners in the area.

Bangs says the main goal behind districts offering teacher housing is to “provide an opportunity for employees hired by the district, both teachers and staff, to live in our community and be able to afford to do so.”

Guss says she herself is “a product of affordable housing for teachers,” noting that her mom, who raised three kids as a single parent, moved from Oklahoma to California and worked as a teacher in Stratford. Guss says they lived in employee housing for several years until her mom was able to buy a home of their own.

Most local entry-level K-12 teacher positions offer between $50,000 to $55,000 a year, according to MCOE, below Monterey County’s median income of $57,100 for one person. Teachers who stick with it for decades can earn above $80,000 in some districts.

Voters in Soledad Unified passed a $13.75 million bond in 2020. Most of the money, $10.5 million, will go toward teacher/staff housing. SUSD’s housing project is in its preliminary stages; the district has identified a potential parcel, located at Monterey and Soledad streets, in front of Bill Ramos Park. The land, valued at $440,000, is owned by the city of Soledad.

Once final approvals are in place, it’s estimated construction will take 12-15 months. The hope is that it helps lower SUSD’s teacher turnover rate, losing 7 to 25 percent a year.

San Ardo Elementary School District is a small rural district located near King City. They have nine teacher/staff housing units, two – or three-bedroom apartment units. Superintendent Catherine Reimer says prices range from $700-$1,000 per month. Most are occupied by classified staff (maintenance, custodians or clerical workers) and teachers. Currently there is no waiting list and units become available on a first-come, first-served basis.

New recruits across the districts go through a two-year training program that includes workshops, shadowing experienced teachers and getting their teacher credentials. In San Ardo, that onboarding can cost up to $8,000 per person – another incentive for school districts to keep teachers.

When there is low turnover, Bangs says, “We’re able to spend additional resources on programs for students, whether it’s after-school support or additional resources during school.”

In 2020, the same year SUSD passed its housing bond measure, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District was considering placing a similar bond measure for staff housing on the ballot but its board of trustees opted not to do that, coming up one vote short. “We need to find a way to create stability, and housing is definitely part of the puzzle,” MPUSD Superintendent PK Diffenbaugh says.

MPUSD’s teacher turnover rate is about 20 percent a year, and the district needs to hire about 100 new teachers each year; the average new teacher stays for just five years. Diffenbaugh says that coincides with workers growing up – “looking for a place to raise a family that they can afford – looking for a more livable, less expensive area or in some cases, choosing a different profession.”

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