Whiten is among the lucky ones who have received help to secure affordable housing, but she feels for those who are not so fortunate.
“It’s sad to live the way we are because of inflation,” said Whiten. “And everything is going up except your paycheck. Your paycheck isn’t going up so it’s like, ‘how am I going to continue to survive?'”
In a 2020 survey, the National Education Association found that 16% of educators are having trouble making rent or mortgage payments, up from 12% before the Covid-19 pandemic.
The association stresses the need for greater pay increases, in addition to more affordable housing options and other benefits.
Community steps up
Residents of one affluent suburb in California’s Silicon Valley are answering their local school district’s call for help by offering up empty rooms in their homes for rent.
In late August, the Milpitas Unified School District near San Jose sent out a notice asking members of the community to step up if they “have a room for rent at your home and would like to share the housing opportunity with our Milpitas Unified School District educators.”
School officials told CNN that, as of Tuesday, 66 residents in the city of around 75,000 had offered rooms or spare homes to rent out to school staff.
The school district said it’s lost seven teachers since the last school year “because of the cost of living in Santa Clara County and the (San Francisco) Bay Area.” Those educators moved to more affordable communities, according to the school district.
“There’s been months where I would worry about ‘am I going to be able to pay rent this month?”’ Whiten said.
Three years ago her life changed drastically. Whiten was informed that her application to a then-new housing complex, Norwood Learning Village, was approved. The affordable housing development was a joint venture between the Los Angeles school district and TSA Housing.
“A lot of people, they almost feel in disbelief because of, not only the price that they’re getting the unit for but the quality of the housing here,” said Sam Chang, manager of Norwood Learning Village and the husband of a teacher.
Whiten, a single mom who has multiple sclerosis, now lives in a three-bedroom apartment with her two children. She pays about $1,300 a month, significantly less than the average of $3,000 per month for a similar sized apartment in the same area. Perhaps most rewarding for Whiten is that she’s able to spend more time with family, as her commute to work dropped from two hours one way to just 25 minutes.
“Living where I am, paying what I pay … it’s a blessing, it’s a blessing,” Whiten said.
The demand for these affordable apartments is soaring. Norwood Learning Village has just 29 units in all, but Chang says nearly 600 people are on a waitlist hoping one opens up. More than half of them, he said, work for the Los Angeles school system.
“The need is really great,” he said.
Some teachers earn too much to qualify for help
It puts those teachers and slightly higher earners in a difficult middle ground, making too much to be eligible for affordable housing and not enough, many teachers argue, to cover comfortable, convenient housing.
Whiten said most who qualify are, like her, a teaching assistant. Or they work as a bus driver, cafeteria worker, or part of the janitorial staff. She fears teachers are unfairly priced out.
“The cost of living is so expensive out there, even on a teacher’s salary, if they’re single like I am, they’re not going to be able to afford to live here,” she said.
CNN’s Kathryn Jaeger contributed to this report.