For many teachers, the cost of owning a home or even renting an apartment near the schools where they work is nearly impossible because of the mismatch between teacher salaries and the high cost of housing. It’s a problem that makes it difficult for some communities to attract and retain teachers. REALTORS® can help make housing more affordable and accessible for teachers by working with lenders, nonprofits, schools, and government agencies to promote employer-assisted housing programs, by educating teachers about their housing and financing options, and by developing special initiatives to address the issue.
Maryland is one of the wealthiest states in the country. “Even now, the average cost of a house is way beyond what single teachers can afford on their own without help,” says Edward Robinson, an agent with Keller Williams Flagship of Maryland and president of TheMDRealEstateTeam.com. The state aggressively recruits new teachers from out-of-state to address teacher shortages, but, for some of them, the cost of housing makes it difficult to make the move and hard to stay there--a factor contributing to low teacher retention rates in some Maryland counties. In 2005, inspired by his wife to address these issues, Ed Robinson established an innovative Housing Program for Educators, which may be among the most comprehensive in the nation. The program is offered to teachers around the state through an exclusive affiliation with six of the state’s teacher associations. Today, Robinson and his team focus primarily on serving these teachers. The high volume of business gives Robinson the leverage not only to negotiate discounted rates for teacher-homebuyers with select lenders but to negotiate discounted rents and special lease terms with area property managers--so teachers who aren’t ready to buy can get out of their leases without penalty when they are ready. In addition, Robinson has become an expert in the state’s Community Development Administration (CDA) mortgage products, state and county employer-assisted housing programs, and other special programs for which teachers may be eligible. The Housing Program for Educators then bundles these programs to maximize the benefits to each teacher-homebuyer. Depending on their eligibility, it can add up to thousands of dollars in teacher savings. In addition, the housing program offers up to $1,000 in closing-cost assistance.
TheMDRealEstateTeam.com is a one-of-a-kind business model. The agency is organized around its successful Housing Program for Educators. “Each of our agents is assigned to a school. They essentially become account managers for that school,” says Robinson. Their goal is to provide real estate services to the individual teachers, whether they’re ready to buy a home or not, so there’s an extensive educational component to the program. “Many of these incoming teachers are recent graduates who are paying off educational loans,” says Robinson. “Our program is about more than making home ownership affordable. It helps teachers understand credit, how credit works, how to establish credit, and how to build credit.” Teacher-clients are encouraged to take TheMDRealEstateTeam.com’s class that guides them through the entire home-buying process. “We teach them how to reduce their debt-to-income ratios and help them prepare financially to buy a house,” says Robinson. As a result, the program builds relationships with teachers that stretch over many years. It helps teachers get to the point where they can buy a house and then enables them to get more house for their money.
In nearby Virginia, the Fredericksburg REALTORS® Foundation has created a grant program to help new teachers make the transition to their communities. Hands Up for Educators--established in 2010 by the foundation--provides grants to new teachers for security deposits, utility deposits, and the first month’s rent when they move to Fredericksburg, Virginia, and the surrounding four-county area. “New teachers are hired in June and July but don’t get their first paycheck until September,” says Kim McClellan, government affairs director for the Fredericksburg Area Association of REALTORS® and staff liaison to the foundation. “So they have to move here, find a place, put down a security and utility deposit, and pay their first month’s rent--but they’re waiting for a paycheck for quite a long time.” Hands up for Educators makes the transition more affordable. Seed money to launch the program came from an Ira Gribin grant from the National Association of REALTORS®. In its first year, Hands Up for Educators provided $7,765 to nine new teachers to help them defray the costs of settling into their new community. The foundation’s first partnership is with the NSWC Federal Credit Union, but they plan to expand by adding lending partners and reaching out to local businesses to help fund the program. To publicize the grant program within the education community, the foundation worked with human resources departments at the school systems, who then got the word out to new teachers. Administering the program is straightforward: Grants are funded on a first-come, first-served basis. Says McClellan, “We just verify each teacher’s records with the school system. The only requirement is that the teachers have to serve out the full school year.”
The REALTOR® Association of Prince William (PWAR) in Prince William County, Virginia, partnered with the county school district to help teachers understand the local housing market and financing benefits available to teachers through state and federal programs. Although the level of activity has subsided in recent years, at the height of the market, area schools were bringing in 600 new teachers a year--many from outside the region. During periods of peak hiring, the association served as a valuable resource for the school system by making presentations, providing information about employer-assisted housing programs, and identifying agents who were knowledgeable about teacher-related housing programs.
Other REALTORS® around the country are taking NAR’s employer-assisted housing (EAH) class and contacting local employers, including schools and governments, to discuss employer-assisted housing and ways to implement EAH benefits for employees in their communities. An EAH benefit for teachers can include homebuyer or homeownership education programs provided by REALTORS® and their teams, counseling services provided by a nonprofit organization, and/or financial assistance available through schools and government agencies.
NAR’s Employer-Assisted Housing (EAH) Class1
This four-hour class focuses on how to work with local employers to discuss employer-assisted housing (EAH), the benefits of EAH, and three options--homebuyer and homeownership education, counseling and financial assistance--that employers can implement to help their employees become homeowners or afford a home close to where they work.
NAR’s Expanding Housing Opportunities (EHO) Class2
EHO is a six-hour course designed to educate real estate professionals on the range of affordable housing opportunities including how to identify and explain the range of affordable housing opportunities and their benefits to clients and to build partnerships to expand housing opportunities through advocacy, workforce housing initiatives, and green building concepts.
NAR’s Housing Opportunity Program3
The Housing Opportunity Program offers programs, grants, training, and resources that help REALTORS® and REALTOR® associations expand housing availability and insure an adequate supply of rental housing and home ownership opportunities in their communities. A number of workforce housing resources are available including a guide to implementing an EAH benefit program called Developing an Employer-Assisted Housing Benefit Plan: Step-by-Step Guide as well as materials and documents that employers find useful in determining which EAH plan benefit to offer.
See related article in Issues in Public Education, “Teachers Living Where They Work.”