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When it comes to housing, educators are left behind
Illustration courtesy of San Francisco Housing Rights Committee

The political discussion about the obstacles facing educators who are trying to find affordable housing in San Francisco has been ongoing for at least the past five years.  In 2014 the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development created a working group with San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and other organizations with the goal of helping to stabilize the housing of 500 educators in five years time. But according to a presentation at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting facilitated by the working group, only 16 educators have been helped so far. These dismal results are compounded by the reality that if the working group continues to use its existing model to better educators’ access to housing, the few people that will benefit from their services will most likely be those that are least vulnerable.

During the presentation, the working group outlined its “multi-pronged strategy,” which include: homeownership assistance, housing counseling, rental assistance, and housing development (otherwise known as “brick and mortar” projects). But upon careful review, it is clear that the four strategies work to center the experiences of the higher echelons of educators who already receive the highest pay. For example, the Teacher Next Door (TND) program provides teachers seeking home ownership with loans of up to $20,000. Solely targeting educators seeking homeownership already limits the scope of the program’s services to those with the privilege to even consider owning a home. Furthermore, because the program serves educators that make up to 200 percent of the average median income, it neglects to target the educators with the most urgent needs.

Ideally, housing counselling, rental assistance and housing development would serve the lowest paid educators. However, during the presentation, the working group revealed that “housing counseling” can mean any interaction between a counselor from Homeownership SF and an SFUSD educator, which means it could have no effect on stabilizing housing at all. Although the rental assistance and housing development “prongs” hold tons of potential, the group reported that they are still “exploring ways in which SFUSD might provide rental assistance” and housing development to educators. So in essence, two out of the four prongs that would be most beneficial to the educators struggling the most have not yet even been launched. And even after they are, there is no reason to believe they will actually serve educators fighting to stay in San Francisco.

Particularly, the working group suggested that housing development slots would not be given to the poorest educators. This was evident when a member of the working group referred to paraprofessionals as costly because they were unable to pay as much rent as credentialed teachers therefore incurring a higher cost. And although this is true, it is troublesome that the end goal of this working group is to report the highest numbers with the lowest cost rather than provide stable housing to educators who are being pushed out at disproportionate rates. In other words, the numbers politicians will use to bolster their approval rates seem more relevant than the actual impact their policies make.

As cities privatize, city residents with the most resources continue to accrue capital while those with the least amount of resources continue to experience displacement and increasing poverty. The working group must pay attention to the fact that the only educators who will be helped under the current arrangement are those most likely to already enjoy at least some stability. And that the absence of the intense work necessary to secure city-wide housing combined with the policies that continue to allow companies to overtake the neighborhoods we teach in, means the most vulnerable educators will continue to struggle. These educators, as we know, are usually themselves people of color, trans, undocumented, and from low-income neighborhoods. The educators who share similar identities with our most vulnerable students are the first we are set to lose when there is a housing crisis.

During the board meeting, District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen rightfully called the working group to keep themselves accountable for the lack of progress they have made towards achieving their goal. “If we’re gonna start with 500, which is already a low goal, then let’s actually meet that goal.”

I agree with Ronen. But I would add that if we are going to start with 500, we must ensure that it is the 500 educators who face the most difficulty in finding and paying for affordable housing.

Chris Arreola is a 4th and 5th grade bilingual educator at Bret Harte Elementary School.

Story by: Chris Arreola