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Opinion: My American dream is a nightmare in Austin

·3 min read
In this December, 2019 file photo, volunteers from the Austin Board of Realtors Foundation and Habitat for Humanity raise the walls on an affordable home in East Austin for Tede Tchabou, center, and her two children. [Photo courtesy Austin Board of Realtor/St. Laurent Photography]
In this December, 2019 file photo, volunteers from the Austin Board of Realtors Foundation and Habitat for Humanity raise the walls on an affordable home in East Austin for Tede Tchabou, center, and her two children. [Photo courtesy Austin Board of Realtor/St. Laurent Photography]

Correction:

The following op-ed incorrectly stated the income criteria to qualify for affordable housing which Austin Habitat for Humanity will build for Austin school district employees and families.

According to the organization, for a three-person household, the maximum income to qualify is $79,450. For a single-person household, the maximum income to qualify is $61,800. Austin Habitat for Humanity says it does not publish minimum qualifying incomes because circumstances are different for individual families.  

If the American dream is owning your own home and that house being the symbol of your success and hard work, well, welcome to my nightmare. I think that is an old dream though, and the new American dream is just finding some place you can afford to live.

I recently got very excited about a news story that there was affordable housing being set aside for teachers. I am a teacher! I need affordable housing! I scurried to find out more and in the meantime I Google-stalked this housing and appreciated the neighborhood, the floor plans, and the cute exterior of what I hoped would bemy new home. I joined a Zoom call with 74 other people in the very tight market for these 30 homes. Still good odds, I thought. I had about four solid minutes of watching the presentation and thinking I could get one of these homes. Yes! I will volunteer 200 hours to Habitat for Humanity and build homes for others. Yes! I have earnest money and closing costs! Yes! I work for thisschool district and I am a teacher! Yes!

Then they got to the slide about earnings and I gasped and sat open-mouthed as my heart fell out of my mouth, splatted on the floor, and lies there still in disbelief. I, a teacher, do not make enough money per year to qualify for teacher-affordable housing. I wish I were joking.

In order to be considered for one of these houses, a family needs to make 80% of the median family income. For a three-person home - me and two kids makes three - the qualifying income was over $70,000. I laughed/cried when I saw that. Then I thought, they are adults, I won’t count them.  For a single-person home, thequalifying income was $55,000. I have no trouble telling you I made $51,000 last year. I make $4,000 too little to qualify for teacher-affordable housing. That $51k includes two coaching stipends.

I am a college-educated, professional woman who, as a teacher, cannot afford housing set aside specifically for teachers. How is this possible?  And if it is this bad for me, what is it like for someone who doesn’t have a college degree? Someone who makes minimum wage? Where are normal people supposed to live?

The kids and I currently live in an apartment that is close to my school. Though they are considered adults by the government, they are still very much my responsibility to house. My lease is up in December and I am holding my breath waiting to see how much rent here will go up.  And if it goes up too much, then where do we move?  When I look at other apartments, the rents are just as much and more than rent for my current apartment and this current rent is now a stretch to afford.

Last year, I had a realtor friend set up a house search for me to see other options. I asked her to please stop the search about a week in because the results were depressing. Many of the options seem to include living among college students and a house where a murder recently occurred.

Last year, I was hopeful and didn’t know that I was a teacher who couldn’t afford affordable teacher housing. This year, I know who I am, I know what I make and really, I'm thinking that maybe the murder house wouldn’t be so bad.

McMahon is a teacher in the Austin Independent School District. 

This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Opinion: Why my American dream is a nightmare in Austin