Degerness loves her job, but says, “The money is very hard.”
Alex Saldivar faced similar challenges when he moved from Indianapolis to Denver for a teaching job with Denver Public Schools in 2015. He and his girlfriend paid $1,250 a month for their one-bedroom apartment, leaving when the rent increased to $1,450 the following year.
“That frankly is untenable,” he said. “They essentially pushed us out.”
Saldivar left his teaching job after a year and now works for a nonprofit organization in Denver.
Some superintendents say they start teacher-candidate interviews with heart-to-hearts about the reality of housing costs in their communities. They don’t want candidates, especially those from out-of-state, jumping in with visions of majestic mountain peaks and not the dollar signs that go with them.
Custer County Superintendent Mark Payler said when he surveyed the southern Colorado district’s newer teachers recently, most indicated they planned to stay for only two to three years. One factor, he said, is the difficulty of securing decent housing on a starting salary of $29,500.
In Denver, a recent exit survey taken by teachers sheds some light on the subject. Of 219 teachers who left the district after the 2015-16 school year, 23 said Denver’s high cost of living was a big factor in their decision. Nearly 50 cited moving as a key reason for leaving, though there is likely overlap because respondents could cite multiple reasons.
Additional evidence comes from a September report from the National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy that examined housing affordability for school employees in the nation’s biggest cities. Denver was among 24 cities where buying a house was unaffordable for teachers as well as lower-paid workers.
The “Paycheck to Paycheck” report also found that renting an apartment in Denver requires an annual salary of at least $49,000. While the district’s average teacher salary is around $54,000 with an average of $5,800 in additional stipends and incentives, the base salary for a beginning Denver teacher with a bachelor’s degree is about $40,000.
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The concept of providing subsidized teacher housing has a long history in some Colorado districts.
Take tiny Woodlin on the Eastern Plains. The district owns 14 housing units, including trailers, houses, and apartments—most built around 1960 right on the school campus. Most employees pay rent of $70-$105 per month and the district covers water and propane.
Other rural districts, such as Karval and Deer Trail, offer employees similar deals. Then there’s Aspen, which has 43 units of subsidized housing going for $850-$1,500 a month. Market rate rents easily surpass $2,000 a month there, said the superintendent, John Maloy.
In the last 18 months, three other Colorado districts have launched projects to build employee housing—often with significant support from local civic leaders, banks, and the business community.