DAVID REENE, HOST:
In America's top real estate markets, rents are going up and home prices are just soaring. And that's pricing a lot of people out of the communities they work in - like teachers in some of America's big cities. Here's NPR's Eric Westervelt.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Kelly Henderson teaches at Newton South High School in a suburb west of Boston. It's part of the 10th most expensive housing market in the country. Kelly loves her job, but she's frustrated she simply can't afford to live in the town where she teaches.
KELLY HENDERSON: For people in the private sector, they're probably saying - oh, poor you. You can't live in the community where you work. What's the big deal? The nature of public education and why it's a different kind of job is that it's all-consuming, as well it should be.
WESTERVELT: That is, the job doesn't end at 3 o'clock. Her beef is more than an oh, my commute stinks complaint. Like a lot of teachers, Henderson wants to be a vital part of the community where she works.
HENDERSON: You want them to coach a team. You want them to be faculty advisor. You want them to be able to give your kid extra help before school, after school, whenever, and so we're constantly forced to make that choice. Do I stay and watch my students in the school play, or do I go home and remember what my husband looks like once in a while?
WESTERVELT: The problem is hardly unique to Boston.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
WESTERVELT: At Walter Hayes Elementary School in Palo Alto, in the heart of Silicon Valley, a group of boys enjoys an end of day flag football game.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN PLAYING)
UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Let's go.
WESTERVELT: Inside, third-grade teacher Tara Hunt is preparing for the next teaching day. She's been forced to live a two-hour commute away because she can't afford local rents. I asked her what percentage of her monthly income she's currently spending on housing.
TARA HUNT: Over 50 percent for rent, no question - not including utilities and other things.
WESTERVELT: The rule of thumb is you should not spend more than a third.
HUNT: Right. Who came up with that rule? Whoever came up with that rule never lived in California because I don't know when it's ever been one third (laughter).
WESTERVELT: Here's the thing. Hunt makes a good salary. Veteran teachers in Palo Alto make an average of $100,000 a year or more. But when Hunt looked for a place to live in the community where she teaches...
HUNT: I was looking at a two-bedroom house in Palo Alto for rent for $7,500 a month - 1,200 square feet. I don't even know who that would work for.
WESTERVELT: The city council here is exploring several ideas including subsidized housing for teachers and others who can't afford local rents, but make too much to qualify for low-income housing. Scores of other cities are debating other solutions. San Francisco, in May, will restart its Teacher Next Door program which offers city teachers up to $20,000 toward the purchase of their first home. But housing advocates say few of these programs, so far, have made a difference.
Silicon Valley teacher Tara Hunt says she knows some parents of children she teaches are sympathetic, but she's not sure they really get it. They're in another tax bracket, and it feels, she says, like they're in another world.
HUNT: It's really hard to relate with them because they're very wealthy people, and I can't really relate to that in general. It's easy to say oh, yeah, that's terrible that that's happening to the teachers or the firefighters or the bartenders - oh, well.
WESTERVELT: Maybe nothing will be done, Hunt says, until more veteran teachers start to pack up and leave. Eric Westervelt, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.