Teachers need to live here too
It is a problem all over the world in cities that are expensive to live in. Public servants, including teachers, struggle to live in the place where they work. The soaring cost of housing in some of New Zealand’s most expensive towns and cities, has led some schools to come up with some creative solutions.
This year, will be defined by many things in education, not least of which is the crises in teaching created, in part, by soaring housing costs and hard-to-staff positions in rural locations.
While to Government pedals faster to try and fix a situation in which housing prices have spiralled out of control in some areas – making the kiwi dream of owning your own home fade with each new release of data – wages too have failed to keep up with costs, and in remote and hard-to-staff areas the struggles are all but replicated.
The housing crises is having far-reaching effects and the Government has been slow to respond. Teacher vacancies have grown, and as the graphs show – the cost of housing tracks the vacancy rates – as teachers vote with their feet and leave the cities in the hope of finding cheaper accommodation.
Voluntary bonding being extended to all of Auckland was presented as a panacea for the crises but it is not enough.
Education Aotearoa spoke to principals and teachers in some of the most affected areas and NZEI Te Riu Roa presented a plan on what could be done to solve the problem.
Schools buy houses
Shirley Maihi, principal of Finlayson Park School in Manurewa says the school purchased houses in the school’s area so that they could have a childcare centre and house single teachers.
She said it was serendipitous that they bought a house next to the school in 1996 and turned it into a childcare centre where the teachers could have their children cared for in school time and that they also bought a four-bedroomed house in 2013 just outside the school zone for the housing of single teachers from outside of Auckland. The teacher tenants pay a minimal rent. Both houses were purchased before the huge price hikes in Auckland, and they have been a drawcard when advertising jobs at the school.
Even so, she says some teachers still cannot afford to live in Auckland, even though the school also subsidises rent for teachers with families, for example.
She tells the story of one teacher who was ready to take a job at the school, then realised, even with the subsidy, he could not afford to live in Auckland. One place the school that was available and affordable, involved a 1.5 hour commute each way.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s biggest school, Rangitoto College, is looking into building houses on its grounds so its teachers can afford to live in Auckland.
Rangitoto College, on the city’s North Shore where the average home now costs $1.2 million, is doing a feasibility study into building housing for teachers on the school grounds.
Macleans College at Bucklands Beach has also started subsidising rents in private housing for nine teachers hired this year from outside Auckland.
But it is not just Auckland facing these issues. In Queenstown, principal of Queenstown Primary School Fiona Cavanagh says she is finding it more expensive to live in the Queenstown area than in Auckland, from where she moved three and a half years ago. She was principal at both Glenfield and Sutton Park Primary in Mangere.
She says everything seems to be more expensive in Queenstown and she does not know how people on low incomes cope.
“I pay $760 a week for rent in Arrowtown – which is much more than what I can rent my house out for in Auckland. Everything is more expensive in Queenstown: heating can make a power bill $300-800 a month and I went through 10 cubic metres of firewood this winter. You need warm clothes and they are not cheap and petrol and groceries are more expensive too.”
The school is fortunate in that they too have houses available for teachers at the school to rent at a reasonable price – three that belong to the Ministry of Education and one that belongs to the Board of Trustees. The houses were bought from the late 1970s and through the 1980s with the latest one being bought in 2004.
The beginner teachers who come from outside the area, the school houses make it viable to live there. Cavanagh says though, that all the houses need to be upgraded as they are now ageing and cold.
She says it is hard in Queenstown for those with not much money – often those working in the service industry, whose children attend her school.
Accommodation is so scarce she says that the local newspaper asked for families in the area to consider billeting tourist industry seasonal workers so that the industry could be sustained.
She says that writing-off student loans for beginner teachers in Queenstown, as had been suggested for Auckland and other hard-to-staff areas, would make a huge difference.
Further south in Mataura, the voluntary bonding scheme has helped beginner teachers with making ends meet.
Principal of Mataura School, Susan Dennison says the scheme has made a huge difference to two of her teachers in paying off their student loans. Her school is an eligible school under the scheme, and two teachers at the school have had all their payments – one was able to pay off her student loan and in the last year and then use the rest of the money toward paying off her mortgage.
“We have had great success with the voluntary bonding scheme. One teacher, who has small children at home, has found it has made a huge difference to them in terms of paying off their student loans.”
Dennison says that the school sometimes has difficulty recruiting staff for short term positions.
“But we have been able to attract a stable group of teachers who have stayed for a long periods of time and love teaching at the school.”
Some of the solutions overseas have also been to build accommodation for teachers such as a $US44 million plan in San Francisco for the city’s first teacher housing development.
The apartments — which will likely be priced below market rates — could be move-in ready by 2022, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The average rent of a one-bedroom in San Francisco tops $US3300 ($NZ$4500) a month.
In the United Kingdom, the National Union of Teachers has set up a Facebook site for London teachers looking for accommodation.
A survey of NUT members in the capital aged under 35 found that after five years of teaching, 8% were still living at home with their parents, while just 33% had managed to get onto the housing ladder. When the union asked if teachers expected to remain working in London in five years’ time, two-thirds of renters and 54% of buyers said no. Of those, 61% said the high cost of living and working in London would drive them out.
Adding to the teachers’ woes, a recent article in the Guardian newspaper revealed that teachers were more than £5,000 ($NZ 9,000) a year worse off on average in real terms than in 2010 – according to analysis of official data showing the effect of years of pay restraint on the profession under the Conservative Government.
Auckland becomes more expensive
But Auckland is even more expensive than San Francisco and London. It has gone from the world’s fifth least affordable city to its fourth, now tailing only Hong Kong, Sydney and Vancouver as the least accessible housing market.
Earlier this year, the 13th annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey examined prices to incomes in 406 metropolitan housing markets and put Auckland near the top due to the high price of housing compared to moderate wages.
Auckland’s median house price was $830,000 earlier this year and yet residents’ median household income is $83,000.
Also, earlier this year the Public Service Association (the union and professional association which represents public sector workers) said in a submission to an Auckland Mayoral Taskforce on Housing that nearly half of Auckland public sector workers were living in unaffordable housing.
Sixty percent of respondents to a PSA survey said they had considered leaving Auckland for housing reasons, four in 10 for transportation issues, and nearly half said they currently lived in unaffordable accommodation.
The PSA represents members across a range of public and community service jobs including community care workers, librarians, physiotherapists, mental health workers. – Kate Drury