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Teacher at San Francisco public school ends up homeless due to housing costs

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“San Francisco isn’t geared for me; it’s not built for someone like me”

With a secure job teaching math at a San Francisco public school, a master’s degree, and even a side gig as a badminton coach and instructor for underserved youth, 35-year-old Etoria Cheeks never imagined that, after moving from Georgia to San Francisco in 2015, she would be homeless and sleeping in shelters. But that’s just what happened. And the city’s housing crisis isn’t the only economic force to blame.

As Heather Knight’s piece for the San Francisco Chronicle details, Cheeks, who makes around $65,000 a year, cannot find a place in the city to live. She had been living in Daly City, but had to move out after her house was foreclosed upon.

Knight’s article gets into the specifics, but to top line it: In addition to a comparatively paltry teacher’s salary (far less than what public school teachers make in other cities, like Boston and Chicago), Cheeks’s annual take is too much to be considered for San Francisco’s below-market-rate housing lottery. (The mayor’s office caps salary at $42,000, which, according to SFist, is 60 percent of area median income for an individual as of 2015.) And even if she did get on the BMR list, the wait-and-see game could take years.

After spending a few weeks couch-surfing and inside a South of Market homeless shelter “for one terrible night,” a retired member of the teacher’s union caught wind of Cheeks’s story and offered her a room until she finds her own place.

“Technically, I’m still homeless until I have my own lease,” Cheeks tells the Chronicle. “San Francisco isn’t geared for me; it’s not built for someone like me.”

And she’s right. San Francisco is not built for someone like her. But it shouldn’t have to be that way.

According to a report by Apartment List, San Francisco teachers have it the worst in the country, not just the state. While teachers in other cities see a year-over-year growth in salary (e.g., Chicago teachers can make up to $87,000 per year after a decade on the job, while teachers in Boston make a comparatively grand $93,000 by year 10), San Francisco teachers’ salaries max out at $75,000.

Any single-income resident who pulls in Cheeks’s salary or slightly higher must live with at least one roommate or live so far outside the city that a commute of two or more hours is de rigueur.

Most depressingly, things don’t seem to be happening. “In April, I wrote that a working group charged with building teacher housing had made zero progress identifying sites or a way to build on them,” Knight adds. And since then, the group has had only one meeting.

As long as San Francisco has families, it will need teachers. Already, our city’s first responders are unable to live within city limits. And now, according to a March report in the Chronicle: “Largely because of the housing affordability crisis, next school year the San Francisco Unified School District is projecting that 1 out of every 7 teachers and other certificated employees will leave.”

In the meantime, Cheeks has submitted her resignation at Academy High, and plans to look elsewhere for work and a home.

This report comes on the heels of story in Oakland Magazine (“The Real Cause of Gentrification”), a piece that argues when cities like Oakland ban new apartments and condos in wealthy neighborhoods (Rockridge and Temescale, just to name two), low-income areas and residents end up paying the price.