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

Jarrod Brown
Jarrod Brown

Australian teachers are being priced out of housing near their schools, with many areas even too expensive for educators at the top of the pay scale.

In a new study published in the Australian Educational Researcher, researchers analysed quarterly house sales and rental reports in New South Wales with data confirming that 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 median teacher’s salary.

The situation is particularly dire for teachers early in their careers. Currently, 675 schools – nearly 23,000 full-time teaching positions – are located in an area where the median rent for a one-bedroom place is unaffordable on a graduate teacher’s salary. 

“The last time a first-year teacher’s salary could comfortably afford the rent for a one-bedroom dwelling was around a decade ago,” says Professor Scott Eacott, the author of the study and Deputy Director of the Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture.

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“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.”

But affordability isn’t just an issue for early career teachers. For experienced educators at the top of the pay scale, 70 schools – around 2000 full-time roles – are in an LGA where a single-bedroom dwelling is also unaffordable.

With rental vacancies sitting below 2 per cent across the state, homeownership is also out of reach for NSW teachers on a single income. Average prices in some areas are more than ten times the average teacher salary, Sydney’s Bayside, Canada Bay, Sydney, and Waverley areas being particularly cost-prohibitive.

“We’ll find it hard to attract new teachers when even a modest one-bedroom apartment is unaffordable,” Prof. Eacott says. “But also, we’ll lose many experienced teachers simply because they can’t afford to live close to where they work.”

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Housing affordability is an issue for many Australians 

Prof. Eacott says housing affordability has been somewhat overlooked in the teacher shortage crisis, pointing to it taking a backseat to 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,“ Prof. Eacott says. “But housing affordability is one of those understated reasons why, and not doing anything to address it will only amplify the problem.”

With commutes of more than an hour not being uncommon, Prof. Eacott says 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 enduring a long and grinding daily commute.

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

Looking to the future  

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

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

Salary loading for teachers working in severely unaffordable LGAs, Prof. Eacott says, could 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 says. “The issue is, it may end up being the entire eastern seaboard, which, at that point, is just a salary rise.”

Looking to the future, with a whopping 331,000 Australian households already in rental stress, the National Housing Finance and Investment Corporation (NHFIC) predicts that there will be a shortage of 106,000 homes by 2027. 

To ensure there are adequate sustainable accommodation options available, Prof. Eacott believes that one answer is to consider teachers and other essential workers more carefully  at the infrastructure planning stage of developing future cities.

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“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,” he  says.

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Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. Jarrod established his journalism career working on the education news and information site The Bursar. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.