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Free housing for educators being offered to help curb high rent prices

Program offers free housing to teachers
Program combats low teacher pay and housing crisis by offering free housing 04:39

To address the dual issues of low teacher pay and affordable housing, a pioneering program in New Haven, Connecticut, is offering early childhood educators free housing as a solution. 

This groundbreaking initiative came from the Friends Center for Children, where teachers like Kristen Calderon, struggling with the financial burdens of low salaries and high living costs, are now finding relief and stability.

Calderon, a teacher at the center, said she often chooses which utility bill to skip to avoid being homeless, even with her hourly wage being above the national average of $14.22 for early childhood educators.

"I would say to myself, OK, I didn't pay the gas bill last month, so I can't not pay that again. This month, maybe we'll skip the electric bill or the cable bill. And obviously, rent was number one," said Calderon.

Calderon said many of her coworkers often fear being homeless — something she once experienced. The single mom said she lived in a shelter when her son, Javier, was a toddler.

"Hearing gunshots was basically a nightly occurrence," she said.

Government statistics reveal that early childhood workers earn an average salary of about $29,500 a year, barely above the poverty line for many families. But there is a disparity between the cost of high-quality child care and the salaries of those who provide it. 

The cost of infant and toddler care reaches up to $22,000 per child for infant toddler care due to ratios that require four children to one teacher, said Allyx Schiavone, the educator who runs the center where Calderon teaches. 

Schiavone said she knew that increasing salaries annually wouldn't be possible. Instead, she found a new approach to help: providing free housing for educators.

"A one-time purchase with a forever return was much smarter for us than trying to raise teacher salaries annually because we can't come up with $20,000 for each teacher," said Schiavone. "This is not being done anywhere in the country. We are the first to provide free housing to early care and education teachers."

This initiative has not only attracted attention for its innovation, but also for its potential to serve as a blueprint for addressing educational and housing challenges nationwide. Schiavone's partnership with Yale University's School of Architecture has brought this vision to life, with students designing and constructing homes for teachers as part of their coursework.

"It's crazy to see the things that you draw and thought over actually come to fruition," said Jessica Chen, a student involved in the project who designed Calderon's home.

Chen found a personal connection to the mission, drawing inspiration from her mother's career in early childhood education.

"It was incredibly meaningful and incredibly impactful seeing these things that, knowing just how much of a weight it would lift off my mom, if we had that at my house was just so meaningful to me," said Chen.

For Calderon and her son, now 10, the program has been life-changing. With a stable and peaceful home, Calderon can dedicate herself to her students without the fear of being homeless.

"I can be a more educated and more patient and more loving teacher when I don't have to worry about whether I'm gonna have a place to go home to or not tonight," said Calderon. 

Schiavone hopes it's a model state and local governments will build on.

"Now there's an opportunity to take this and have a profound impact across the entire country with regard to the early care and education system itself," she said. "We're having a housing crisis. We're having an early care and education crisis. This is a way to solve two things at once."

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