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Families renting rooms to teachers who can't afford housing

Posted at 11:00 AM, Sep 16, 2022

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — The pandemic caused a lot of teacher burnout, but there’s another factor fueling the teacher shortage that isn’t going away: housing prices. In many communities, housing is forcing educators to leave jobs they love because they can’t afford a place to live.

Research by the National Education Association found, with inflation, teachers are making about $2,150 less today than they did 10 years ago, so rather than sit around and watch teachers leave their cities, families are now opening their doors to educators to give them a place to live.

Math teacher Brian Trommater just started teaching this year and he found a school he loved quickly, but finding housing was a different story.

Before he found his current rental, a one-bedroom cottage, he was living in a hotel. He said he had no idea where he would live long-term.

“It got kind of funny when like my principal was like, ‘Hey, you know, you can maybe like sleep at the school or something for a little bit,” said Trommater.

Trommater snapped up his place about an hour after it was listed.

“I hit a Yahtzee. This is very, very lucky.”

But, doing what he loves in the places he loves costs him a lot.

“You have to make sacrifices.”

He spends 50% of his income on rent, and he isn’t alone. Teachers in this mountain community are in crisis.

That’s why Philip Qualman, superintendent of Eagle County Schools near Vail, Colorado, called to the community to open their homes to teachers like Trommater.

“We certainly have people who have, you know, been living in vans, have been living in hotels, have been living on sofas,” said Qualman.

Qualman said he wrote this letter to solve an immediate crisis, but this issue is part of a much larger problem.

“I think this was a creative solution to a symptom, but I don't think that the symptom is the disease. I think the disease is that we have a broken funding model for K-12,” said Qualman.

But there’s good news in this time of struggle: people are willing to help.

“Our initial reaction was a bit of surprise. I mean, we knew there was a housing issue here initially, but we didn't know that it had extended to teachers as well,” said homeowner Eric Gotthelf.

He and his wife responded to the letter, offering their lock-off unit in their home to a teacher for affordable rent.

More than 120 families in Eagle County responded to the letter offering teachers a place to stay.

“I have a young son of my own. And, you know, I'm looking into the future. I want to make sure he has a great education growing up and that there are good teachers for him when that time comes,” said Gotthelf.

Communities in California are asking families to open their doors to educators too, recognizing that keeping teachers in communities means keeping communities whole.

“The teachers, I really believe it's the most important profession that exists in our society,” said Gotthelf.

And while this temporary solution won’t fix things long-term, it’s providing a warm welcome to keep teachers in communities where they’re needed most.