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90 per cent of NSW teachers can’t afford to live where they teach

The surging cost of housing over the past decade has led to teachers being unable to afford a home in the same location they teach in, according to new research.

The study, published in the Australian Educational Researcher, analysed quarterly house sales and rental reports in NSW and found more than 90 per cent of teaching positions across the state – around 50,000 full-time roles – are located in Local Government Areas (LGAs) where housing is unaffordable on a teacher’s salary. 

The situation is particularly dire for new teachers, with nearly 23,000 full-time graduate teachers across 675 schools, unable to afford a one-bedroom apartment on their base salary.

The study also found that even for experienced educators at the top of the pay scale, a single-bedroom dwelling is also unaffordable across 70 schools.

According to the study, if a teacher was to pay more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, it would be considered unaffordable.

Deputy Director of the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture, Professor Scott Eacott said the study showed the last time a first-year teacher salary could comfortably afford the rent for a one-bedroom dwelling was around a decade ago.

“Fundamentally, there’s been an increasing gap between salary and the costs of housing that the standard pay rise isn’t covering, and it’s pushing teachers further away from their workplaces or out of the profession entirely,” Professor Eacott said.

“The issue is not just limited to teachers, but all essential workers who are increasingly finding it difficult to find affordable places to live within a reasonable distance of their workplace.” 

Homeownership is also out of reach for teachers on a single income, with median prices in some areas more than 10 times the average teacher salary. 

Sydney is particularly cost-prohibitive, with the most unaffordable LGAs for teachers being Bayside, Canada Bay, Sydney, and Waverley.

“We’ll find it hard to attract new teachers when even a modest one-bedroom apartment is unaffordable,” Professor Eacott said. 

“But also, we’ll lose many experienced teachers simply because they can’t afford to live close to where they work.”

Professor Eacott said housing affordability had been somewhat overlooked in the teacher shortage crisis because of other important issues like increasing workloads, poor working conditions, and stagnant pay.

“The teacher shortage is complex, and there are many factors why we lose teachers, especially in the first five years,“ Professor Eacott said.

“But housing affordability is one of those understated reasons why, and not doing anything to address it will only amplify the problem.”

Professor Eacott said the extraordinary price of housing means teachers have to choose between spending a significant amount of their salary to live in reasonable proximity to their school or endure a long and grinding daily commute.

“Commutes of more than an hour would not be uncommon, which is a lot of productive time lost for teachers, not to mention all the hidden costs of tolls and parking,” he said.

“We’re going to look at it more in future research.”

Some projections indicate that NSW will need 13,000 more teachers in the next decade to meet student demand, while much of the projected growth is in areas not historically considered hard to staff.

He said that is likely to change if teachers aren’t able to live locally.

“The school system is struggling to find enough teachers as it is,” he said. 

“If teachers can’t afford to live near or within reasonable commuting distance of their schools, we can only expect those shortfalls to continue to grow.”

According to Professor Eacott, part of the challenge is that no single government department or the private sector is ultimately responsible for housing essential workers. 

While more investment from superannuation funds in essential worker housing developments is welcome, it won’t be enough to address the issue at scale.

“The simple answer is we do need to be paying teachers more. But that may not necessarily solve supply problems,” he said.

“For example, it is just incredibly difficult right now for teachers to find a place to rent given record low vacancy rates.

“It’s also important that we’re not confining teachers to just teacher apartments, but creating pathways to home ownership.”

Professor Eacott said salary loading for teachers working in severely unaffordable LGAs would be one potential policy solution that could be implemented in the short-term to help alleviate the cost of housing. 

“An allowance for those teaching in LGAs where housing is out of reach would be a targeted and tailored first intervention,” he said.

“The issue is, it may end up being the entire eastern seaboard, which, at that point, is just a salary rise.”

Longer term, he said that teachers and other essential workers should be considered more in infrastructure planning when developing future cities.

“We rely so much on our teachers, so it’s only fair we take steps towards providing them and other essential workers with affordable and secure housing options,” Professor Eacott said.

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a senior journalist at Elite Agent specialising in finance and real estate.