Denver Public Schools partners with startup to help teachers own homes despite skyrocketing prices

Teachers union says it's not a realistic solution

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DENVER -- Colorado teachers are in a tough spot. Our state ranked 31st for teacher pay last year and on top of that, metro area teachers are also dealing with skyrocketing housing prices.

Denver Public Schools rolled out a new partnership and home buying down payment assistance program Thursday to help more teachers own homes in the communities they live.

"I commute daily from Arvada because I cannot afford to live here in Denver," business teacher Jozette Martinez said during the announcement. "It's a long running joke that you don't do this for the funds."

Martinez said she is hopeful the program can help more educators like her buy a home.

"To see that there are programs available to help educators to really improve their life experiences is something I think I can get behind 100 percent," she said.

But not everyone is buying it.

"It is not the solution. I see it more as a PR, public relations approach to a very serious issue," Denver teachers' union president Henry Roman said.

"It's not about any one thing, but a combination of resources and innovative thinking," DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg said during Thursday's new conference.

Landed, a Bay Area startup, is providing the down payment assistance at no cost to DPS.

Under the terms of the program, each teacher must come up with ten percent of a home down payment. Landed matches the rest bringing the total down payment to twenty percent, which keeps mortgages more affordable.

However, the average single family home in Denver is around $500,000. At that price the required down payment would be around $100,000, and teachers would have to come up with half that or $50,000. Money and savings Roman said most teachers simply don't have.

"I know the overwhelming number of teachers in Denver live from paycheck to paycheck," he said. "This is not really a realistic option for our teachers."

Through the program, educators also must agree to stay with DPS for at least two years, and pay back the ten percent Landed loan them, and 25 percent of any equity if they sell the home.  

"Do you think this is about making money or helping teachers," asked Denver7 reporter Jennifer Kovaleski.

"It certainly a structure to maximize profits," said Roman.

Roman also said teachers are required to use Landed's bank and can't take advantage of any federal loan programs which offer lower rates to people like first time home buyers.

"The devil is in the details," he said.

Landed acknowledged the program isn't the solution for everyone, but one option teachers wouldn't have otherwise.

"One tool in the tool kit. It doesn't serve everyone. There's a lot of people who still are having difficulty saving because of the cost of living," Landed co-founder Alex Lofton said. "There's a lot facing teachers. We hope that this is one tool for the group of people that it helps, and over time we can be a part of creating more options for folks in various stages of their financial life."

Superintendent Boasberg also stressed the need for more school funding at the state level during Thursday's announcement and described the program as a creative, out-of-the-box solution but not the only answer to the problem.

"This is about us not being a state where we are so far behind the national average in terms of how we fund our schools," said Boasberg.

The union sees teacher salaries and school funding as the root cause of this problem that needs to be fixed at the state level instead of a feel-good program they said won't help the teachers who need it most.

"Out of our 5,600 teachers I would be surprised if a very small percentage qualify," said Roman.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Colorado ranked 46st in the nation in terms of teachers’ pay; this was based on erroneous numbers provided by the National Education Association. According to data from the 2016-17 school year, Colorado ranks 31st in the United States.

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