MIAMI, FLORIDA (Circa) - Teachers across the country are speaking out about their low wages. In many places, the people charged with educating future generations earn so little they have to take second, sometimes third jobs just to make ends meat. In high-cost cities like San Francisco, Calif. and Miami, Fla. teachers often have to choose between living in debt and teaching in the city, or moving somewhere more affordable. This can cause teacher shortages in densely populated areas.
Now officials in Miami-Dade county have offered up a solution, but it's not raising teachers' wages, it's building affordable housing for them on school property.
"We have to work together to find ways to provide packages or amenities and enhancements that make the teaching profession in the U.S. more attractive than it has been," said Michael Liu, the county's director of public housing and community development.
Liu and members of the Miami-Dade school board worked together to create a preliminary proposal to expand an elementary school in the Brickell neighborhood of downtown Miami. The expansion will include a few housing units that teachers can live in. Then another brand new elementary school will be built on a larger parcel of land nearby. That school will include up to 300 affordable housing units, Liu said.
He called it a win-win for both the School District and city housing officials, saying the plan will provide much-needed schools in rapidly growing areas downtown, while helping to house teachers who can't afford the sky-high rents in Miami.
According to a 2017 study from Apartment List, an apartment marketplace that compares average housing prices to teacher salaries, teachers in Miami could expect to spend as much as half of their wages on living expenses. In addition, Miami was ranked 47th out of the 50 largest housing markets when it comes to housing affordability for teachers.
Teachers just starting out in Miami can expect to earn around $41,000 in salary. The average cost to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Miami can be upwards of $2,000 a month, which could cost a teacher as much as two-thirds of their salary.
Miami-Dade teachers also don't see much increase in their salaries over time, so as the cost of living increases year-to-year, teachers' salaries often time don't keep up.
In New York City, for example, a teacher could go from making around $52,000 a year to $77,000 after ten years, according to the Apartment List study. Teachers in Miami, however, teachers start out around $41,000 and earn just over $46,000 on average after ten years.
That's true for Nadia Zananiri, a high school history teacher in Miami-Dade County. She says she's been teaching for 15 years and earns $46,000.
Zananiri, a mother of three, said she has only been able to own a home thanks to her husband's income. However, she said her family has struggled financially in recent years and said her teacher's salary is not enough for them to make ends meat.
"It's led me to be in credit card debt, that's the only way I can survive," she said.
With summer break approaching, Zananiri is bracing for several months were she wont earn a paycheck while school is out of session. She said she's worried that her family might have to sell their home and move to another county because renting an apartment in Miami is not going to work for her family.
"It's one thing if you're single and can rent a studio apartment or you can have roommates, you still enjoy having roommates, but as a middle-aged woman with children it is not really a viable option to be a mid-career teacher in Miami-Dade and asking us to live at schools is not a viable option either," Zananiri said.
She and other Miami-Dade educators on social media argued teachers need separation between where they work and where they live. Teachers commenting on Facebook pages for Miami-Dade's teacher's union and other schools in the county said they were worried about students seeing teachers' having friends and family over to their homes on school property during their off-work hours.
Liu said officials are still hammering out the details of the plan. He said the living quarters of the properties would have a separate entrance than the school, and said teachers who teach at the schools might not be the same ones who live in the school-housing hybrid buildings.
"It may not always be the best situation to have teachers that teach at the school live on the same property, it may be teacher in the area from different school," Liu said.
Zananiri argued it's still a problem for teachers to live at any school.
"It's still a school. I didn't buy a house across the street from a school because I want to look at a school after work," she said.
The housing plan would put Miami in the ranks of other high-cost cities like San Francisco and Aspen, Colo. where school districts are offering affordable housing for their workforce.
The real problem, Zananiri said, isn't affordable housing, it's teachers' low wages.
"Teachers and other empoyers in Miami-Dade county need help now, We need higher salaries now, not affordable housing. We should be able to live where we want, not where the county can house us," she said.