Halfway Home

“Everyone should be able to pay their rent or mortgage, utilities and gas,” says Patricia Sterling, a long-time local teacher. In the midst of a teacher shortage, she wants to see better wages and more housing options.

For the last 18 years or so, Patricia Stirling has been commuting over an hour from San Luis Obispo into Monterey County to work as a teacher. Today, she is employed with the Soledad Unified School District, teaching grades K-5. Her current commute time: one hour and 40 minutes. “Mine is up there, but it’s not even the longest commute,” Stirling says.

When most people think of the high turnover in educational jobs – or teacher shortages – within the state, they think of younger teachers just breaking into their careers. But Stirling, a veteran teacher, along with the new or seasoned teachers she talks to, all feel the pressure to leave the profession due to a lack of affordable housing and inadequate salaries.

One solution school districts are turning to is employee housing. It’s not a new idea. San Ardo Union Elementary School District has had housing for its staff since the ’60s. “It’s been working out for us,” says SAUESD Superintendent Catherine Reimer. Their rentals run from $700-$1,000. “We even make some profit on it to help with educational services.” (Reimer estimates her school district makes around $90,000-$100,000 a year from the rentals.)

SUSD is on its way to building housing and plans on floating a bond next year, the district confirms. A survey of 275 SUSD staff and teachers showed 71 percent of participants supported the district taking on teacher housing. Monterey Peninsula Unified School District has also been mulling over affordable housing. In a survey of around 403 likely voters, 70 percent felt positively about the district building housing. Like Soledad, MPUSD would also look at a bond to fulfill the project.

However, some newer teachers at MPUSD say it may be a little too late. Brooke Wilson and Natalie Cowart both teach at Marina Vista Elementary School. They’ve been working for MPUSD for five years and, more or less, both spend 50 percent of their monthly income on rent.

Wilson says she found a place at $1,100 fairly quickly upon entering her job. The problem was every single year her land lord raised the rent. Today she pays $1,600. “I do work a second job,” Wilson says. “I’ve been at points where I consider not being a teacher.”

Cowart pays around $1,400, but says she didn’t even really qualify for her studio on paper. “They told me they never accept applications like mine,” says Cowart who explains her lessors required applicants to make three times the monthly rent.

Both also worry MPUSD is building rentals to prevent new teachers from struggling 10 years down the line, not to help new teachers now.

“I think they’re building them for new teachers to stay like five years,” says Wilson. “But what happens to them when they’re back into the outside marketplace with exorbitant prices? It’s a good solution, but not perfect.”

Cowart adds these rentals aren’t coming soon enough. “If they have an option for me 10 years from now, I’d take it. But will I still be here?”

The other part of the solution for the two young teachers: a raise. “We paid so much money to even become teachers,” says Cowart.

Established teachers, like Stirling, echo their sentiments: it’s not just about affording rent, but having a liveable salary “It’s not just new teachers. The salary just isn’t equitable to the work.”

Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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