“Buying a house—I’ve just been kind of okay with the fact that that might never happen,” Winslow said.
Kevin Zwick, the CEO of the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, a nonprofit that provides training and loan assistance to qualified applicants, said buying a house shouldn’t be entirely out of reach for teachers. His organization has helped get 440 teachers into homes in the last 14 years by offering down-payment loans to teachers with a family income of under $102,050 annually.
Those teachers, like Mark Stolan, who teaches eighth-grade math in San Jose, are grateful for the help. In 2013, with a down payment loan in hand, Stolan and his wife were able to buy a two-bedroom condo in Campbell, one of the last communities in the Valley that is still somewhat affordable to middle-income earners, according to the MLS Listings. (Campbell, along with Santa Clara and San Jose, are the three communities within Santa Clara County that are within close commuting distance to the major tech companies and have median home prices of $1.2 million or less.) But the purchase means the couple is tied to a home on which they were only able to pay 3 percent of the purchase price out of pocket. If prices continue to soar, this potentially risky investment will pay dividends. But if the market settles into a more normal growth rate, the Stolans will have to wait a long time before the amount they’ll “make” by selling will be enough to buy a bigger or nicer house.
“We’re going to have to wait 10 years before we can even think about moving,” Stolan said. “The area is growing so much faster than the income is going up. In teaching, the income only goes up so fast.”
But if they hadn’t bought when they did, the Stolans might not have been able to buy at all. Paying rent from their salaries would have made it almost impossible to save up for the down payment that would qualify them for a loan on their own. And now, two years later, their joint income hovers just above the maximum allowed to qualify for assistance from the trust. The Stolans have joined the ranks of seemingly well-paid professionals in the area who make too much to qualify for assistance, but too little to buy into the market.
This housing predicament for “community workers” like teachers, police, and nurses eventually becomes a problem for everybody, said Maya Brennan, the vice president of the Terwilliger Center for Housing at the Urban Land Institute, which researches housing trends throughout the country. Such professionals, she said, should be considered “their own class of workers” because their jobs can’t be outsourced.
If a Bay Area tech company needs to set up a server farm, they could, say, open it in a less expensive mid-sized city, like Bend, Oregon. But a Bay Area school has no such luxury. Advances in computer-based learning aside, Stolan’s eighth-graders are unlikely to teach themselves algebra while he monitors their work from Oregon via video conference call.
“You can’t really have teachers just living in the Pacific Ocean,” Brennan said. “We need to make sure these workers can afford to be in our communities.”
But unless something changes drastically (or an as-yet-unknown app is invented to solve the problem), Silicon Valley risks losing the very people it’s counting on to educate its future stars.
This story was produced in collaboration with The Hechinger Report.