Math teacher Dr. LaTanya Burnett and her grandchildren outside her new home in Denver.
On a rainy day after school, five of LaTanya Burnett’s grandchildren are hanging out in her classroom. They attend the same school she teaches at, Florida Pitt Waller K-8 in Denver’s Green Valley Ranch neighborhood.
Burnett finishes up some work and then calls out, “alright people, backpacks, jackets, everything you need to get ready to go.”
The family piles into grandma’s car and drives 5 minutes to her new home, a 5-bedroom, 3-bath house in a tidy suburb next to wide open fields. It wasn’t always this way.
Before Burnett and her husband purchased this home, she spent hours on traffic-clogged highways commuting from the suburb of Aurora to her school in Northeast Denver. Housing is almost a legendary problem now in the metro area. Add in the region’s educator pay troubles — one study ranks Colorado last in the nation for salary competitiveness — and it becomes an even bigger challenge.
To hang on to teachers, Denver Public Schools and other Colorado school districts are playing a bigger role connecting educators with housing programs offering down payment assistance. One program, called Landed, has just expanded to 15 school districts in the state.
Burnett’s 1,300 square foot bungalow was meant to be her retirement home, but “then we acquired some of the grandchildren,” she says with a smile.
The Burnett’s were priced out of most of the Denver market, where the median single-family home price is $525,905. Another challenge was getting to the magic number for a down payment. With 20 percent down, there is no mortgage insurance, which saves about $200 to $350 each month. A 20 percent down payment also gives access to better interest rates and makes a home offer more competitive.
Landed bills itself as a “social mission real estate brokerage.” Teachers buying a home put up 5 or 10 percent of the down payment and Landed puts up the rest to get to 20 percent.
Both Burnett and her husband felt it was “too good to be true” at first, but came back for a second meeting with them.
Landed’s down payment share comes from foundation investors. When the homeowners refinance or sell, they pay back the down payment. Landed shares in a portion of the home’s future gains or losses. The company says it has helped more than 100 teachers in California and Colorado purchase homes.
Burnett and her husband moved into their new larger Denver home with Landed’s help. There’s more space for their 15 grandchildren. Someday they may refinish the basement for a mother-in-law. Another plus? Her daughter, who lives with them, is a flight attendant and is now just a hop, skip and a jump away from Denver International Airport.
DPS Math teacher Dr. LaTanya Burnett sits at the dining room table in her new home purchased with the help of Landed. Her home is within walking distance of the school where she teaches.
“Family is very huge for us,” Burnett says of having so many under one roof. “We want to stay close-knit, we want to be together. We spend every holiday together, we spend birthdays together. It’s important to my husband and I that were able to pour into our grandchildren’s lives and be a part of the legacy that we’re leaving behind and helping them know that they’re important to the world.”
In a 2017 DPS survey of Denver teachers, 60 percent owned their own home. Nearly 40 percent of teachers were single income earners.
Newer teachers are at a higher risk because of leaving the profession because of housing, and most of them rent. The biggest concern about housing was in Denver’s far northeast, near where LaTanya Burnett lives. The area is expected to see fast-growing student enrollment.
In addition to Landed, Denver Public Schools is putting energy into help teachers find housing. One tool kit is packed with information on subsidized housing rentals, home shares with seniors, lease-to-purchase programs, house sitting, subletting, a special HUD program for full-time teachers, tax credit programs, down payment assistance programs, and a “Teacher Next Door” program that streamlines the home loan and home buying process. On top of that, the district offers help with housing research, legal, assistance, and financial guidance.
“We know how many of our teachers want to live in the neighborhoods their schools serve in order to deepen their connections with kids, families, and community, and we want to do all we can to lower financial barriers to make that happen,” says outgoing Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg.
Parents also see a benefit to having a teacher live near her school.
“We do home visits at our school and I’m able to tell my parents, ‘Hey, I’m just down the street, and I’m just around the corner,’” Burnett says. “They love the fact that I’m here in the community.”
Burnett can run informal homework clubs at her house. She welcomes knocks on her door with questions. She says parents know and trust her. For her, having a relationship with parents built on trust helps students academically in the classroom.
“They see me as more than just their kids’ teacher,” Burnett says. “We’re neighbors. We’re a community together in and outside that schools.”
About Jenny Brundin
Jenny Brundin is the education reporter for Colorado Public Radio. She joined CPR in 2011 after spending 16 years at KUER in Salt Lake City. Before her career in radio, Jenny worked as a literacy teacher at a refugee center in Alberta, Canada.