If teachers are society’s true heroes, don’t they enjoy a hero’s journey? Like a 4 a.m. wakeup call, followed by a daily two-hour drive from their home in Capitola to their school in Palo Alto because they can’t afford to live anywhere near their places of work?

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Reporting for NPR, Eric Westervelt recently delved into the troublesome trend of teachers being unable to afford to live where they work. Across the country, teachers like Tara Hunt—who’s been teaching for 16 years in Palo Alto—are entirely unable to afford rent in or near the wealthy communities that they serve.

“This is where all the tech jobs are. And it’s pushing out your community helpers. The cost of living just keeps going up and up,” Hunt says, adding, “Who do we blame? Do we blame the homeowners who are renting out their property? Do we blame the city?”

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Some local governments are attempting to tackle the issue. Westervelt reports:

Cities and communities, meantime, are scrambling to find solutions. Scores of cities have added affordable-housing quotas to rules on new development. Some are debating building subsidized condos or apartments specifically for teachers.

Palo Alto’s City Council is exploring several ideas including subsidized housing for teachers and other public servants who can’t afford local rents but make too much to qualify for low-income housing.

San Francisco is taking several steps, including forgivable housing loans, mortgage assistance and, eventually, affordable housing specifically for teachers. In May the city will re-start its Teacher Next Door program which offers city teachers up to twenty thousand dollars toward the purchase of their first home.

(The median price of a San Francisco two-bedroom house, according to real estate website Trulia, is over $1 million, so $20K would hardly make an affordable difference to most educators.)

Apart from real estate market challenges, it’s particularly hard to make wealthy parents understand the average teacher’s struggle.

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“Steve Jobs’ kids went through this school. We have some pretty high-profile parents. It’s really hard to relate with them because they’re very wealthy people... No one’s being proactive,” Hunt says.

One thing many people fail to grasp is how a teacher’s workday goes far beyond their regulated hours, making long commutes a more challenging issue.

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“You want [teachers] to coach a team, you want them to teach all day, you want them to be a faculty advisor, you want them to be able to give your kid extra help before school, after school—whenever,” says Kelly Henderson, who teaches in a wealthy Boston suburb. “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?”

The options are bleak and, until communities come up with better solutions or wealthy schools start bleeding talented educators, the situation is likely to worsen.

Listen to the full NPR report here.


Image via Fox/The Simpsons.