Teachers: Housing still hard despite help

KEALAKEKUA — It’s not news that finding affordable housing in Hawaii isn’t easy.

That’s especially true for the state’s teachers, 10 percent of whom change schools, move or leave the profession entirely every year.

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So when a California-based company announced plans to help Hawaii’s educators make the critical down payment on a home, it caught a lot of attention — if not also some skepticism.

I was looking at it and saying, ‘What’s the catch? There has to be some kind of catch,’” said Jamie Gibson, a teacher at Konawaena Middle School. “This probably can’t be real.”

Gibson was one of about two dozen people to come to Konawaena High School on Friday for a presentation by Landed, which has been helping educators in communities around the country by matching up to half of a down payment on a home and is now bringing its efforts to Hawaii.

Ian Magruder, director of partnerships at Landed, told the crowd they’re here to help whether a family’s ready to buy their home or just getting started.

“We plan to be here long-term,” he said. “This is not just a short-term program. There’s not a limited pool of capital; it’s not a lottery or anything.”

Landed started a little over three years ago in the San Francisco Bay Area and has since expanded to Seattle, Denver and Southern California. Now in Hawaii, Landed plans to help educators at all of the state’s public schools, including charter schools chartered with the Hawaii Department of Education, as well as Kamehameha Schools.

Educators must have been employed full-time for at least two years to be eligible and must continue working in education for another two years. More information about Landed is available at its website, www.landed.com.

Landed works by providing up to half of a 20% down payment on a home in exchange for part of the rise or fall in the home’s longterm value. If the homeowner sells or refinances the home within 30 years of purchase, they pay Landed back its initial investment plus or minus 25 percent of the home’s appreciation or depreciation.

Gibson said she currently lives in a “really cheap studio apartment” in Kealakekua. She’s been at Konawaena for two years, she said, and taught in Hookena for three years before that.

“I would like to stay in Hawaii and be able to own something. That would be nice,” she said. “Just stop renting and having to move around so much.”

A 2018 report by USA Today put the median salary for Hawaii school teachers at $59,524.

Meanwhile, as of May 15, the Kona residential median price was $629,500, according to The Griggs Report, a semi-monthly publication by Michael B. Griggs, who tracks local real estate trends.

Gibson’s not the only one feeling the crunch. Alicia Gonzalez, who helps students with special needs one-on-one at Konawaena Elementary School also knows the pressure of finding housing for her family. She moved here from Georgia about three years ago.

“I would love to buy a house,” she said. “I would live to stay here. It’s really hard, especially me having family. I would love to buy a house, but it’s just always hard to get a house.”

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The banks here don’t make it easy, she said, explaining that in the mainland she could be pre-approved already. She also said that in her experience, finding a place that will rent to a family has been tough.

“So it’s been a long struggle,” she said.

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