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Lack Of Affordable Housing Is Causing A Teacher Shortage In Hawaii

Asian female teacher teaching mixed race kids reading book in classroom,Kindergarten pre school concept.

The average time to sell a property in many markets right now is 6-12 months, but it’s much worse in some parts of the country. The U.S. has been struggling to provide more affordable housing for years, but the scarcity of affordable housing in Hawaii is hitting teachers especially hard. According to the USA Today, Hawaii is suffering from a chronic teacher shortage because educators can’t afford to live on the island due to soaring rental and housing prices.

In tourist-friendly states like Hawaii and Florida, many condominiums and neighborhoods also feature a Homeowner’s Association, which can come with additional fees. While these organizations help better the neighborhood or property, many teachers are struggling to find affordable housing options.

“I’m 31 years old, living with two roommates in a dump place,” said Kevin Sparks, an eighth-grade science teacher who moved to Hawaii from California. “I have almost no savings. I want to stay and get a home, but it’s looking more and more like that’s not possible.”

Hawaii has long been one of the most expensive places in the U.S. to work, live, and visit. High housing and rental prices have caused many teachers, many of whom came from the mainland, to live with roommates or with their parents if they live nearby.

But many educators are choosing to head back to the mainland to teach where they can afford to buy a house and start their own families. Nationwide, 32% of people looking to buy new homes are first time home buyers. However, in Hawaii, those potential homebuyers are unable to find homes they can afford. The result has been a chronic shortage of educators, which has been felt the most in Hawaii’s lowest-income schools. Teachers say they’re skeptical of Hawaii’s ability to fix the problem.

“There are bills in the works here for teacher housing and for teacher tax credits, and not one of them has a funding source,” said Corey Rosenlee, the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

The median sale price of a single-family home in Honolulu as of September 2018 is $812,000. And that’s not counting additional fees including closing costs and home inspections, which 90% of U.S. homeowners say is a necessity. In comparison, the median price of a condo is $435,000.

Current sales and rental prices are at an all-time high, but they continue to rise. Young teachers in Hawaii earn $3,300 a month on average and would need to use 70% of that income to pay the median rent in Hawaii if they wanted to live alone.

Krysten Irion, who is in her fourth year of teaching science in Honolulu, currently earns $56,805 in annual gross pay. But she only takes home $1,200 per paycheck after taxes and benefits contributions.

Irion says she can only afford to work as a teacher because her parents own her one-bedroom condo in Waikiki. Her parents only charge her the $800 monthly maintenance fees such as plumbing repairs (24% of household water is used by just the toilet) and carpet cleaning (carpets ought to be cleaned once a year).

“Almost all my friends are living at home, despite what career they’re in,” said Irion. “It’s not just the cost of housing. Groceries are also really expensive.”

First-year educators with a bachelor’s degree and teacher’s certificate can earn up to $48,400 on average in Hawaii, which is higher than the average teacher salary. But because of housing costs, teachers end up taking home less money than they would on the mainland.

“People have said ‘This could be your starter place,’ but it just seems so impossible,” said Jenny Howe, a 28-year-old English teacher in Honolulu.

Hawaii is currently losing 1,200 teachers per year, leaving the state’s education department to struggle to fill teaching positions. Up to 52% of teachers noted “leaving Hawaii” as their primary reason for resigning in the most recent stat staffing report.

Teachers and other workers have been struggling to find affordable housing on the mainland, too. But on the mainland, residents can always turn to the exurbs to find more affordable housing. That isn’t the case in Hawaii.

Recent bills that have been considered by the Hawaii state government include teacher-only apartments and housing vouchers. But the state’s Housing Finance and Development Corporation believes the legislation would be too challenging and too expensive to cover.