REPORT: High Rents Forcing Teachers, Nurses Into Smaller, Older Homes

Lack of affordable housing is forcing in-person workers like teachers and nurses into smaller, older homes, according to a Zillow report.

While remote work has allowed some people to buy upscale homes in more affordable markets, workers in occupations that require in-person work are left to deal with rising rent and home prices. Those left behind are often forced to live with roommates or in a less desirable home. 

“Many renters have been able to keep costs low even as prices have grown over the past several years, but merely affording rent does not mean they are thriving,” said Zillow economic data analyst Nicole Bachaud.

“A deeper look shows a big slice of the market is out of reach for workers looking to maintain a comfortable rent burden. That often means renting an older home with less space but a smaller price tag, or doubling up with roommates or a partner.” 

The report notes that this makes rent burdens appear low. Teachers generally spend about 22% of their income on rent, only 2% up from the percentage of income spent on rent five years ago. But maintaining that percentage means only a small portion of the market is available to teachers, and that portion skews older and smaller than the typical rental.

Tampa is a prime example in the report. Though teachers spend 28% of their income on rent in Tampa, well over the average, only 2.2% of the market is priced to meet that threshold.

The hot housing market has contributed to rising rents. August rent growth surpassed home growth for the first time ever in 35 out of the 50 largest U.S. metros. 

But stagnating salaries for teachers may contribute to the issue. A National Education Association (NEA) report found that teacher salaries were on the rise by 1.5% for the 2020-21 school year, thanks largely to weeks-long strikes and activism. But the pandemic put state initiatives for higher salaries on hold.

“What we don’t know is what will happen in the 2020-21 school year and beyond because the COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed public education,” NEA president Becky Pringle said.

“We are still in a funding hole that was dug decades ago, and as unprecedented inflation looms from our current economic crisis, the country cannot afford to take its foot off the pedal of progress,” the NEA president claimed.

The average teacher salary in the U.S. is $65,090, almost matching the median household income of $67,521. Real (inflation-adjusted) spending on education has increased 287% per pupil since 1960.

According to the Zillow report, nurses face housing challenges as well. Nurses rent homes that are at least 100 square feet smaller than the typical rental in every market.

The most equitable market for nurses is Portland, OR, where nurses who spend 17.3% or less of their income on rent can afford almost 64% of rentals. But the savings still require a space trade-off: the median rental available in that price range is 111 square feet smaller than a typical Portland rental. It is the second-smallest size different of any market, but still notable.