Landed recognizes that we are one tool in the toolkit addressing the housing crisis for educators and school employees. To provide insight into broader learnings and the potential for district-owned rental housing in California, this guest blog post highlights a recent report from the UC Berkeley Center for Cities + Schools that focuses on school district employee housing programs, particularly in the rental market.
To Live in the Community You Serve
By Sean Doocy
Faced with high turnover and a shortage of qualified teachers, California school districts are aggressively adopting new strategies to recruit and retain teachers and staff. Employee housing assistance has emerged as a prominent strategy, a direct response to the housing affordability crisis in California. School district employee housing solutions can range from down payment and homebuying assistance (such as through district partnerships with Landed) to the direct provision of employee housing (typically through new development of rental housing). Yet these are largely untested waters, and school districts are taking a critical look at their employees’ housing needs in order to determine the appropriate approach.
In my recent report on school district employee housing in California, published by the UC Berkeley Center for Cities + Schools, I review the current school district employee housing landscape and present findings from a study for Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD).
Key Findings from Berkeley Unified School District Study
Employing a survey that we designed and administered to all BUSD employees, as well as an internal employee data set, my analysis shows that BUSD employees do need assistance with housing. Specifically, I identified the following key points:
1. BUSD renter employees are experiencing financial pressures due to high housing costs
More than half of BUSD renters (53%) are cost burdened (spend more than 30% of their income on housing), while 21% are severely cost burdened (spend more than 50% of their income on housing). To further understand the potential pressures associated with high housing costs, we asked employees a series of questions about their housing experiences. As seen in the responses below, renters are experiencing financial pressures due to the cost of housing – greater pressures than those facing owners – which may affect their ability to remain with the district long-term.
Figure 1: Housing Pressures for Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) Employee Renters
2. Most BUSD employees do not live in Berkeley, and their travel to work compounds the pressures they are experiencing from their housing situation
I found that most BUSD employees do not actually live where they work – only 30% of all employees surveyed, and only 26% of renters, live in Berkeley. Renters tend to have longer commutes than owners and are on the whole less happy with their commute situations: 59% of renters would like to live closer to work, compared to 39% of owners.
As one renter stated: “I don’t want to have to commute from great distances (i.e. Fairfield, Moraga) for cheaper housing only to have to spend that extra money on transportation or a car.” This double bind is typical of the housing challenges confronting many residents in California’s high-cost urban areas. But living where you work is especially critical for teachers and other school staff, as another employee detailed: “If I lived in Berkeley, it would cut down the cost of commuting. It would also save time in my daily commute to and from work. I would likely participate in more evening/weekend events at my school if I lived closer.”
3. There is significant interest in BUSD-owned employee rental housing among current renters, and it is viewed as a potential path to homeownership.
In addition to finding a clear need for housing assistance among BUSD renters, my analysis shows that nearly three-quarters of renters (74%) would be interested in living in BUSD-owned employee rental housing. Additionally, two-thirds of renters (67%) think the option of district housing would increase the likelihood that they continue to work in the district, a direct link to the overarching strategy of increasing retention and recruitment through housing assistance.
I also found that employees did not see BUSD housing as an alternative to homeownership, but rather as a potential avenue to homeownership. One employee noted: “I’m interested in affordable housing options because that would allow me the opportunity to save up money towards buying a home close to where I work.”
An Emerging Housing Solution
While not all districts have the same underlying conditions as those found in Berkeley, the BUSD case is emblematic of the situation in high-cost districts throughout California and offers takeaways for other districts looking to finance, develop, and implement their own employee housing programs.
School district employee housing continues to gain momentum in California, and with few precedent projects but increasingly fervent interest from districts whose employees are feeling the pinch of the affordable housing crisis, district leaders can draw lessons from BUSD.
My report provides a series of key recommendations for those districts pursuing their own employee housing plans and offers important context for this emerging – and urgent – new housing solution:
- Listen to Employees: Districts must begin by listening to employees and learning about their housing needs and interests to make sure a housing program is necessary and has broad support.
- Understand Scale: It is crucial for districts to determine the scale that will make their project most viable given available funding resources, and that will best suit their goals.
- Critically Assess Surplus Properties: Districts now have more incentive to leverage their own property where possible, which means undertaking a comprehensive assessment of all potential surplus properties.
- Consider the Positive Non-Housing Effects: District leaders should emphasize the positive spillover benefits of school district employee housing such as the environmental impact of reducing commutes.
- Get Creative with Financing: Think Beyond LIHTC: Housing for school district employees is not traditional affordable housing, and as such cannot be financed in quite the same way. It’s time to think outside the box.
- Combine with Ownership Assistance: Affordable rental housing offers tenants a prime opportunity to save for a down payment – districts should offer a homeownership assistance program as a complement to rental housing.
- Account for Evaluation: As more school district employee housing projects emerge, districts need to invest in robust, longitudinal evaluation programs.
Sean Doocy recently received his Master of City Planning degree in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently conducting research at the intersection of housing policy, school infrastructure, and education policy. Sean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you a public school, university, or college educator or school employee? Connect with the Landed team here to learn more about our down payment program and homebuyer education resources.