A first-year teacher in the Pojoaque Valley School District earns about $50,000 a year, with monthly take-home pay of about $2,500.
The community offers few housing options, so a new teacher is likely to search for a home in nearby Santa Fe, where the average cost for a one-bedroom apartment is about $1,800, according to the latest rental market data from Zillow.
The teacher would be left with about $700 for food, transportation and other necessities.
“When you only bring home $2,500, that doesn’t leave you a lot to drive back and forth, have a car payment, pay your utilities and live,” Pojoaque Valley Superintendent Sondra Adams said.
The imbalance between teacher pay and cost of living, coupled with a lack of housing in Pojoaque, created a persistent problem for Adams’ staff: Educators can’t — or can’t afford — to live anywhere near where they work. The district hopes to ease the problem through the Pojoaque Valley Teacherage Housing Project, which calls for building rental homes for teachers on one of the district’s campuses.
With help from U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, the district has secured $750,000 in federal funding for the proposed teacherages.
“As a proud graduate of the Pojoaque Valley School District, I was proud to secure investments to develop housing for teachers in the community,” Luján wrote in an email to The New Mexican. “... These critical investments will help PVSD retain high-quality teachers and help our students reach their full potential.”
Though the housing plans remain preliminary, Adams said the money is an essential step toward ensuring teachers can establish themselves as members of the community.
“We’re just looking at ways that we could help our new employees get here, get established here, become part of the community and then hopefully be able to purchase a home here in the future,” Adams said.
For Pojoaque teachers, the housing problem is twofold. Not only is there a shortage of rental units — with just one major apartment complex that maintains a long waiting list — but there also is a lack of affordable housing, Adams said.
“As in most rural communities, access to good, quality and affordable housing is critical in helping to attract economic development to build a thriving economy, and the area is in need of both,” says the Pojoaque Valley School District’s most recent facility master plan.
Nearly half of Santa Fe County residents qualify as “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing costs, according to the Santa Fe Data Platform, a local public-private data collection project. Many teachers fall into that category.
First-year teachers often can’t afford to drop more than 70% of their monthly income on rent for a one-bedroom apartment, Adams said. As a result, one Pojoaque teacher drives in from Albuquerque each morning; eight others live together as roommates, sharing two Santa Fe apartments.
Adams envisions the teacherages as eight or so modular homes, each with two to three bedrooms on one of the district’s campuses.
Teachers could rent a home to live with their family or split them up, living with other teachers as roommates.
The project will require significant infrastructure additions, Adams said, including roads, water and sewer lines, electricity and internet service.
But Adams is hopeful. She said her goal is to see the new houses start to sprout in the next two years. That, she said, will allow more Pojoaque Valley School District teachers to put down roots in the region, to become recognizable in the community as more than just a teacher.
“They shop here. They meet people here. They go to events here. They become part of the community,” Adams said. “I think that that’s how we retain people: Make it a place people can call home.”