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Ideas and Solutions

Affordable Housing Can Make Teaching a More Sustainable Career

Affordable housing solutions do more than just help teachers with their rent and living costs—they also help teachers find belonging and put down roots in the communities they serve.

June 5, 2023
Stephanie García headshot

Stephanie García


Moving comes with many stressors: budgeting, packing, and scouting neighborhoods are just a few. So when Monique Magras (Baltimore ’21) was planning her move from Massachusetts to Maryland—a state she never visited before—to begin her new job as a first-year teacher, she was understandably nervous. But Teacher Props, a nonprofit organization that connects teachers with housing and roommates in Baltimore, helped make her move less stressful.

Founded in 2017 by Peter DeCandia (Baltimore ’13), Teacher Props partners with property owners in Baltimore who want to rent to educators. DeCandia was recognized in May as a Baltimore Banner Emerging Leader for his investment in public school education through Teacher Props. By connecting new educators with high-quality, affordable apartments, Teacher Props aims to make the transition into teaching as easy as possible—and, in turn, retain these teachers in Baltimore. 

“After looking on their website, we found a couple [of apartments] that looked really nice and affordable,” said Magras of Teacher Props. Today, Magras lives with two fellow teachers in Patterson Park, a neighborhood within walking distance from her school. 

This type of support can make all the difference for new teachers like Magras. Low teacher pay and rising costs of living are increasingly driving educators out of the classroom. A May 2023 study from the National Council on Teacher Quality found that there are 15 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. where the rent for a one-bedroom apartment is unaffordable on a first-year teacher’s salary. And only one in five teachers believes their pay is high enough to keep them in the field of education for the medium to long term, according to a recent survey by the Teacher Salary Project. 

Organizations like Teach For America are raising the alarm about this critical issue and working to make education an affordable and sustainable career for teachers. In a recent op-ed for The Hill, TFA CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard (Phoenix '98) advocated for affordable teacher housing and higher pay for teachers, especially those teaching in traditionally under-resourced schools. And some TFA alumni are likewise calling for change. As one example, this year, Rep. James Talarico (San Antonio '13) filed House Bill 1548, which proposes that every Texas teacher and school support staff receive a $15,000 pay raise

In cities like Baltimore and Newark—where teacher salaries range from $53,898 to $61,000 and the average rent is upwards of $1,450 a month—programs founded by TFA alumni like Teacher Props help teachers find affordable housing. These solutions do more than just help teachers afford their rent and other living expenses: They can also create thriving communities, provide teacher mentorship and professional development opportunities, and even be a valuable aid in teacher retention.

Connecting New Teachers with a Community of Peers and Mentors

Teacher support and mentorship go hand and hand with housing for Magras. One of her roommates, Jared Brewer (Baltimore ’21), is an educator of five years who helped Magras with everything from planning lessons to troubleshooting how to advocate for students who need an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).

“I know it's a friendship that we will definitely keep as the years go on. I look at Jared as my older brother, and I go to him for advice,” Magras said. “And if it wasn't for Teach For America and Teacher Props, I wouldn't have that friendship with him.”

Brewer and Magras walk to school together, critique one another’s mock presentations, and even have study groups for their Praxis exams.

“Having a roommate who is also a teacher adds to my strength as a teacher,” she said. “Having someone to bounce ideas off of, who’s going to be honest and real with me and practice with me, definitely helped me to become a better teacher and grow in my teaching practice.” 

The Teacher Village in Newark, an apartment complex attached to two Teach For America partner schools, also aids teachers in honing their craft. Seventy percent of the 203 residential units are rented to educators, who receive $100 off their rent per month.

The Teacher Village also has a venue space for residents called The Hub, where teachers have led summer camps, coding classes, and TED Talk-style seminars on education. The Hub also hosts Gateway U, an online school to pursue a bachelor's degree. 

“The word that we hear from our teachers is that they feel supported,” said Teacher Village founder Ron Beit, a Teach For America Newark board member and real estate developer.

“Teachers live in a community and they feel supported because there are other educators living the same life that they are,” Beit added. “This exchange of ideas is really an incalculable value. We believe that ultimately this cluster of teachers is going to create innovation in teaching.”

The Teacher Village launched a new location in Hartford in 2019, with plans to expand to cities like Chicago and Queens. In Atlanta, a new Teacher Village is breaking ground to house current teachers and senior citizens who are retired educators to create an environment of intergenerational mentorship.

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Community building is another essential part of helping teachers to feel belonging in their new home and connect with others in the neighborhood who share their profession. Before the start of the school season, Teacher Props hosts an event to gather tenants together. “We do a big happy hour at the end of our leasing season. That's been really successful the past two years,” DeCandia said. “We’ve had over 50 people come, which is really nice.” 

In Baltimore, Desirae Brown-Bush (Baltimore ’21), who teaches English as a second language at Forest Park High School, has been connected with two homes through Brown Stone Living

The real estate venture, cofounded by three Black women who are 2009 Teach For America Baltimore alumni, offers home placement and listing services for professionals of color in the Baltimore area. They connect clients with affordable homes in diverse neighborhoods that reflect their identities. 

“When we wanted to be around other professionals that looked like us or maybe mirrored some of our own interests, it was just really challenging to find,” said cofounder Kimberlyn Peal. 

Brown Stone Living works to retain educators and other young working professionals in Baltimore by providing events like mixers and happy hours. At the start of each year, Brown Stone Living hosts an event for teachers to come together, network, and build relationships with one another. 

“There weren't a lot of resources to connect us to where to live or where to get your hair done, your nails done,” Peal added. “We really wanted to make sure that we were providing a service that allowed for our clientele to find a semblance of community.”

Last spring, Teach For America Baltimore awarded Brown Stone Living a $10,000 grant to subsidize the first month’s rent for teachers and host community events to promote retention in Baltimore. The grant was also used toward Bush-Brown becoming a corps member intern for Brown Stone Living last summer. 

Brown-Bush would talk to Brown Stone Living founders about the ups and downs of teaching, but most importantly, she said they made her feel welcome in her new city. “I was brand new to Baltimore," Brown-Bush said. “I didn't know anybody, and Kim really made me feel like she was somebody that I could count on.”

“If you don't feel like the city that you've moved to is home and a place that you can see yourself in for the foreseeable future because you have not been connected to your community or resources, then you're less likely to stay after your two-year commitment.”

Japera Parker

Cofounder, Brown Stone Living

Baltimore '09

Helping Teachers Set Down Roots in the Communities They Serve

The founders of Brownstone Living and Teacher Props remain in Baltimore more than a decade after their service as corps members. They are still working in education, in addition to serving the community by helping teachers find homes. Brown Stone Living’s mission is to influence teachers to stay in Baltimore City “for the benefit of our kids and our students,” said cofounder Japera Parker.

Magras and Bush-Brown attribute their housing arrangements as a key reason behind their desire to continue teaching. Both are going into their third year as educators.

This trend is also seen by Leslie Faylor (Baltimore '10) and Josh Michael (Baltimore ’10), who are landlords and cater to educator tenants. They have rented with Teacher Props for the past five years and noted that a majority of their past tenants have stayed within the education field.

“Josh and I would have a different level of empathy should someone be in a financial situation or just understanding the lifestyle and needs of a teacher,” said Faylor. “I think that's an added benefit that we've been educators and have worked in the system.”

DeCandia of Teacher Props also encourages teacher retention through financial support. Starting in summer 2022, Teacher Props launched a deposit payment plan program, for teachers to pay rental deposits over three installments. Incoming teachers, especially those moving from out of state, can struggle to secure housing, since their first paycheck doesn’t arrive until September; this program aims to ease that challenge by spreading out their apartment deposit over time. 

Brown-Bush, who knows from personal experience the role that housing plays in teacher retention, is now pursuing a real estate agent license alongside her teaching career. Brown-Bush wants to carry the baton that Brown Stone Living passed to her—a warm welcome into the community and the teaching profession—by supporting the next generation of educators in Baltimore. 

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This work matters because when teachers can build a home in the communities they serve, it creates a positive impact that ripples out to their schools, students, and beyond. Teacher retention is crucial—especially for schools in low-income communities and communities of color, which are disproportionately impacted by teacher turnover. Research shows that teacher turnover can harm student achievement in core academic subjects and negatively impact morale and school culture.

But in order for schools to retain teachers for the long term, teachers need to be able to put down roots where they work. 

“If you don't feel like the city that you've moved to is home and a place that you can see yourself in for the foreseeable future because you have not been connected to your community or resources, then you're less likely to stay after your two-year commitment,” Parker said. “We wanted to promote retention. That's our theory of action,” Parker added. “That if we did this piece, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, then maybe we would also see our teachers able to stay and serve our community.”

Jessica Fregni Guerra contributed to this piece.

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