Angie Anderson: The Many Faces of Jeffco’s Affordable Housing Crisis

The scarcity of affordable housing in Jefferson County affects a wide range of people in a variety of situations. Who are they? People who work service jobs, college students, retirees, people with disabilities, people who have left homelessness behind, and people who work in certain professions, like teaching, or are at earlier points in their careers. This blog series gives insight into how a range of individuals are experiencing Jeffco’s affordable housing crisis. 

"More and more young educators are just seeing this as not being a field that they can, you know, provide for a family in."

Angie Anderson moved to Colorado nearly 20 years ago for all the typical reasons – the great weather, outdoor activities like rock climbing, and a terrific teaching job at a school she came to love.

Coming from Florida, the salary increase was nice, too. Back then, she said, you could rent a decent two-bedroom house in the Denver metro area for around $1,300 a month. Eventually, she was able to buy a house and put down roots.

The veteran social studies teacher at Bear Creek High School in Lakewood has seen that equation change dramatically over the last decade or so, and is concerned about the effect that unaffordable housing has had on the next generation of teachers, as well as the families who send their children to Bear Creek.

“One of the big things is teacher retention,” she said. “More and more young educators are just seeing this as not being a field that they can, you know, provide for a family in. So they work and they try. They love the job, they love what they’re doing, but they have to hold a second job and a third job.”

Anderson said she knows a lot of teachers who drive for Uber or Lyft, which are rideshare services, to be able to pay their mortgage. It’s exhausting and unsustainable.

A study by Keystone Policy Center found that teachers earning the average salary in Jefferson County Schools in 2021 would only be able to afford 10 percent of the housing in Jeffco. And that’s just based on value, not what’s on the market and available for purchase. Van Schoales, Senior Policy Director at Keystone, said very little of that housing stock would likely be for sale at any point.

“It means that teachers either are deciding not to take positions there or younger teachers are deciding to move to other places in which they may be able to afford to live and have a family or teachers are commuting very long distances, which has all kinds of other negative impacts,” Schoales said.

One of those consequences is teacher churn. Anderson said a new and troubling pattern is emerging. Typically teachers with more experience mentor those who are just beginning, and that extends beyond curriculum to community. As new teachers mature into veteran teachers, knowledge, culture and connections become part of their professional skillset and are gradually passed along to the next generation of teachers. 

The lack of affordable housing has broken that natural rhythm. Now, as older teachers retire, she said, there are fewer staying in the system to become those mentors to subsequent generations of educators.

“That turnover hurts the kids… in the past you would see a kind of a circular life cycle where you had older folks who could mentor and support the young ones. The young folks were coming in with good ideas and you know, creativity and energy,” Anderson said.

Educators newer to the field are having to live far from where they work, which causes them to be less connected to the community, and often leads to them looking for a teaching job closer to where they live.

The impact isn’t limited to just teachers, she said. Paraprofessionals, bus drivers, janitors, office staff and others who are critically important to the operation of healthy, thriving schools are facing the same housing crunch, Anderson said.

“We need those folks and we need them to be part of our community and have that stability,” Anderson said.

Parents of students feel the same pressures. Anderson said 60 percent of Bear Creek’s students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. She knows many of the school’s parents work multiple jobs to be able to pay for housing. Students are watching younger siblings or working a part-time job to help the family. The dedication to getting an education is apparent, Anderson said, but families do what they have to do to survive.

Moving to lower-cost housing, when that is possible, also is very disruptive to students both socially and academically.

“Sometimes it’s pretty rough,” Anderson said. “And a lot of times they have roots in the community as well and they don’t want to move just because their rent went up.”