Santa Cruz tops list of least affordable cities in U.S. for educators

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KGO) -- A new analysis compared teacher pay to housing costs in nearly 300 cities across the country.

The results showed which metropolitan areas are the least affordable for teachers. The City of Santa Cruz topped the list.

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"Unfortunately, it's a bad number one that we're the least affordable place for educators to live," Casey Carlson with the Greater Santa Cruz Federation of Teachers told ABC7 News.

Carlson said the problem is the lack of state funding, made worse by the lack of affordable housing.

"It's harder to attract and maintain teachers when they can't get a salary that's enough to pay the rent," she said.

Carlson has 34 years of experience as a teacher.

USA Today reviewed 291 cities and found mid-career educators in Santa Cruz earn a salary of about $63,000. This means most must pay 2/3's of their salary to afford the median rent.

"When a big chunk of my income goes to paying my rent, it gets really challenging to make ends meet," Daniel Bickham said.

Bickham teaches 5th Grade at Gault Elementary in Santa Cruz.

Bickham explained he spends half his paycheck to live near the school. Though many of his colleagues have chosen to commute to cut down costs.

"First, teachers were going to Watsonville, but now we have teachers going further," Carlson added.

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Some teachers commute from Salinas, Boulder Creek, and other distant areas to make ends meet.

Bickham told ABC7 News, since he started his career at Gault Elementary, his rent has increased 50-percent. He said his monthly payment is still considered below market rate.

"It is challenging when you can't afford to put a roof over your head," he said.

To assist with the affordable housing crisis, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education teamed up with Landed in 2017. Partnership with the San Francisco-based startup gave teachers a shared investment on a down payment for a home.

Santa Cruz City Schools is currently working on a plan to put rental housing for teachers on district property. The District should know more by the Fall.

"I would definitely want to be part of that," Bickham said. "That might allow me to save up some money for a place of my own."

Carlson with the Teachers' Union said there's a big impact from Google and Silicon Valley moving over the hill to Santa Cruz. She said there are also challenges with vacation rentals taking housing off the market.

"No one goes into teaching thinking that we're going to get rich," she said. "But you do think that maybe you'll be able to have your own apartment, maybe your own home someday, maybe you can take a vacation."

The Economic Policy Institute found in 2018, teachers across the country earned 13-percent less than private-sector workers with similar levels of education.

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"We just finished negotiations for this past year, and we negotiated a 1.25-percent raise. That's not a lot," Carlson said.

Rounding out the Top 3 least affordable cities for teachers to live are San Jose and San Francisco. The cities of Honolulu and Santa Rosa round out the Top 5.

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