1st of its kind: Oakland expands housing program for teachers of color

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and a host of other political leaders and community organizers on Tuesday announced that 30 teachers in all are benefiting from what they say is a first-of-a-kind national program that provide subsidies to teachers through stipends and reduced-price housing.

Twelve teachers were given housing in November and Schaaf announced another 18 teachers will be enveloped in the Teacher Rooted in Oakland program, which focuses on giving housing to teachers of color. 

Gustavo Ontiveros, a teacher resident at Oakland Tech whose father was deported and mother is a field worker, said he is grateful to be living in this subsidized housing on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. He said he couldn't afford to live in the Bay Area otherwise. 

If it weren't for this housing, he said: "I would be living in a shared bedroom with little space for me to focus on my studies and on lesson planning for students. The inflated housing market intertwined with the sky-high rental prices and the low pay for educators, pushes Black, Latino and many other teachers out of Oakland."

Schaff said that teachers in the program are receiving $500 a month in guaranteed income for four years if they continue teaching in Oakland. The money all comes from private funds, and the mayor thanked the Bank of America, the Community Development Finance nonprofit, the Pritzker Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, The California Endowment, and other philanthropic nonprofits for their help. 

When the program launched last fall, it served 12 teachers, 11 of whom are BIPOC and 50% of whom are Bay Area born or raised. The goal is to expand the program to recruit and retain more than 100 teachers in the next nine years.

"Sixty one percent of teachers of color are paying more than 30 percent of their income just to make the rent," Schaaf said. "TRiO (Teachers Rooted in Oakland) is the antidote for those problems. TRiO offers our teacher residence beautiful housing that is heavily subsidized so they can quit that second job. They don't have to drive Uber. They can just focus on finishing their graduate degree and actually teaching Oakland students. And then after these individuals finish their residency year… they remain teaching in the city where they can finally afford to live. And that's Oakland."

The announcement comes at a time when the nation is facing a teacher shortage exacerbated by the pandemic. The Bay Area's situation has always been worse as the price to live here far exceeds a teacher's salary. Many teachers live outside the area and drive long distances to get to work. Others simply don't enter the field. 

Oakland Unified Supt. Kyla Johnson-Trammell said this program helps, but it's also not a substitute for increasing teacher pay. 

"Let's just be honest," she said. "It's my hope now is actually with the pandemic that more folks understand how much our democracy depends on having the best talented quality people going into this field so that all of our students in the United States get the best chance to live their dreams. And so I want to say, first off, that none of what we're doing here actually substitutes for increasing the pay of having talented people in the classroom, period."

The program launched in November of last year with the goal of increasing recruitment and retention of BIPOC educators in Oakland. 

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As described by the city, the pilot program offers ‘teacher-residents’ — graduate students training with mentor teachers while completing their teaching credential — the option of subsidized housing at the Paloma Apartments in Oakland’s Laurel District and provides new teachers stipends while also offering free financial advising services, including small interest-free loans.

Recruiting and retaining teachers in Oakland, especially teachers of color, and ensuring housing security is a top priority for the city and district, where over 85% of the students are Black, Indigenous, People of Color, the city said.

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And providing teachers of color affordable housing "makes a difference and will help us diversify our workforce," Johnson-Trammell said. "And actually our teacher retention data over the last three years shows it our African-American teacher retention up, our Latino/Latina retention is up." 

Research shows that not only do students of all races have more positive perceptions of their Black and Latinx teachers than they do of their white teachers, but they’re also more likely to graduate high school and more likely to feel cared for, engaged in school work, and confident, studies show. 

City data also shows that two-thirds of Oakland teachers spend more than 30% of salary on housing, 40% of Oakland teachers spend up to 50% of income on housing; and 61% of teachers of color spend over 30% of their income on housing

In addition, 40% of teachers said they plan to leave the Bay Area within the next five years due to the cost of living.

Oakland teacher Malik Stead, a graduate student completing his teaching credential in science and currently at Roosevelt Middle School, said in a previous interview with the city that he grew up in a lower income family, and it has been a struggle for him to find affordable housing in the Bay Area. 

"I look at teaching as a social justice issue and see teaching as my way to address social justice," he told the city. "This pilot provided the opportunity to have my own space and allows me to become a better teacher because all of my emotional and physical needs are met."

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: Community members and organizations who wish to contribute to the fundraising efforts to support the program can visit the CDF’s donation page and write "teacher housing" for the tribute or organization gift, or directly contact David Silver, the Mayor’s Director of Education, at DSilver@oaklandca.gov, to donate or become a partner.