I still feel that day in my bones: No day before and no day since can compare to the first time I taught debate. Since then, my students have always been the prism through which I’ve tried to view the world. And while I was never a credentialed teacher, I learned that we couldn’t help our kids if we didn’t grapple with how hard it is for educators to afford to live in the cities where they serve.
That’s why I feel so much sympathy for San Francisco teachers, and why I feel that educator housing is so important.
You don’t need me to tell you that San Francisco is desperately unaffordable. As the Chronicle reported, our cost of living was by far the highest amongst the 821 school districts in California — and our average teacher salary was ranked 528th.
Few people will disagree that teachers are struggling in San Francisco. But despite this political consensus, the process to build educator housing is bizarrely lethargic. We have made some progress, especially with the Mayor’s Office finally announcing funding for a site with 140 units — but this is deeply inadequate to handle the scale of the problem.
One hundred forty units, when the district employs 4,500 thousand teachers, built at the earliest in 2022? Entire classes will enter and graduate high school before a single educator moves into a single unit. And while I applaud Superintendent Vincent Matthews for introducing a resolution about teacher housing, the district can do more — first, they need to hire a real estate professional to oversee the process, rather than rely on existing staff without the necessary expertise.
We must do better. One of the reasons we haven’t generated the political will to do to so is because we haven’t framed the problem correctly. Everyone is sympathetic to struggling teachers, but many correctly point out that it’s hard for all of us. Retail workers, restaurant workers — nobody has it easy. So why focus on educators?
It’s about our kids. Teachers are not just sympathetic because they are good people doing good work; teachers are critical to the success of our children and, in turn, our society. Economist Raj Chetty, the pre-eminent economist focused on education and economic mobility, argues that within our education system, nothing affects a child’s potential for success as much as their teacher. The difference between an adequate teacher and an excellent teacher can be the difference of $80,000 over the course of a lifetime.
Yet, how do we expect our teachers to be excellent when they don’t have a roof over their heads? When they commute three hours a day? How can we recruit when stories of homeless teachers dominate our headlines?
Companies in The City produce the best jobs in the world — then import folks to fill them. San Francisco kids need San Francisco jobs.
One hundred forty units is unacceptable. Waiting until 2022 is unacceptable.
Our great kids need great teachers. Our great teachers need great housing. And we need it yesterday.
Armand Domalewski is a debate coach at Mission High School with the Bay Area Urban Debate League and works at the Golden State Opportunity Foundation on statewide anti-poverty and economic opportunity issues.