Charlotte, Raleigh teachers struggle to afford housing, study says

Teachers in Charlotte and Raleigh struggle more to pay for their homes than people in other professions but with similar education levels, a new analysis of national data shows.

In both North Carolina cities, the gap between teachers and non-teachers is among the largest in the nation, according to census data analyzed by an economist at Apartment List, an online platform that connects renters with apartment listings.

The findings underscore two hot-button public issues that are under debate in state legislatures and city councils: teacher pay and affordable housing.

Apartment List calculates that teachers nationwide earn about 26 percent less than other college-educated professionals. Fast-growing housing costs have made it even harder to get by on a teacher’s pay, it found, especially when the teacher is a household’s leading provider.

Teachers in grades one through 12 in metro Charlotte, it found, earned a median salary of $45,000 a year 2017. College-educated people in other professions brought in $68,000 — 34 percent more.

Twenty-two percent of Charlotte teachers were “cost-burdened” by housing in 2017, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of their household income on housing, the analysis found. Only 12 percent of non-teachers crossed that threshold. The 77 percent difference between the two was the largest among the 25 largest U.S. cities.

Teachers in Raleigh face an even larger disparity compared to non-teachers, according to the analysis. While only 11 percent of non-teachers were cost-burdened in 2017, 26 percent of teachers were — a 135 percent difference that was the largest among the 50 cities reviewed.

Real Data, which tracks apartment markets in major metro areas of the Southeast, says apartment rent in Charlotte averages $1,205 a month. Rents in Raleigh-Durham average $1,177.

The average sales price of a home in the 16-county metro Charlotte in March was $289,652, a 3.3 percent increase from one year earlier, according to Carolina Multiple Listing Services. Home prices averaged $350,979 in Wake County, a 2.7 percent annual increase, Triangle Multiple Listing Services reported.

“Teachers tell me all the time that they cannot afford to live in Raleigh,” said Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators, which lobbies for higher teacher pay. “The closer in you get the more expensive it is.”

Even with local pay supplements, beginning teachers in some parts of the state are unlikely to make more than about $38,000 a year, Jewell said. Some teachers live communally, take on roommates or rent out spare bedrooms to get by, he said.

“It underscores the plight of how far we have fallen in North Carolina,” Jewell said.

Thousands of red-clad teachers marched on the state Capitol last week to demand that lawmakers increase funding for public education, including higher teacher pay. So many teachers requested the day off that Wake County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and dozens of other school districts closed classes for the day.

Leaders of North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly say the critics ignore legislators’ work in advancing the state several notches in national teacher pay rankings. The National Education Association reported in March that the state ranks 29th in the nation in average teacher pay, up five spots from 2017-18. North Carolina ranked 47th in 2013 as the nation recovered from recession.

But a statewide survey of public school teachers found that 60 percent called lack of affordable housing a barrier to teaching in their district, the N.C. Community Development Initiative and EducationNC reported in 2018. Nearly half of the teachers reported paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

Five districts, including Asheville and Dare County, have built apartment complexes for teachers, the Community Development Initiative reported. The initiative assembles and invests money for community development groups across the state.

CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox’s proposed budget for 2019-20 included $32.5 million from Mecklenburg County for higher pay for teachers and staff. Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio’s budget, which has not yet been approved by county commissioners, appears to support much of that request, including an increase in the local pay supplement that would make CMS teachers the highest paid in the state by 1 percent.

Staff writer Danielle Chemtob contributed.