California’s extreme home prices are legendary. At the same time, teacher incomes are less than adequate to ensure a decent standard of living. Despite this, all is not lost in searching for a place for teachers to call home in the Golden State.

The top five places in California where local home prices align with teacher incomes are:

  • Merced;
  • Fresno;
  • Riverside;
  • Modesto; and
  • Bakersfield, according to Redfin.

The median teacher’s salary in these California metros ranges from $89,000-to-$100,000. Median home prices range from $238,000-$350,000.

Riverside stands out in terms of being the largest metro mentioned on the list, with an average annual homeownership cost of $40,100 and an average teacher’s salary of $90,200. At this spread, a typical teacher spends 44% of their income on their average homeownership costs, including utilities and property taxes. While this is still above the 30% financial experts recommend spending on housing, there will still be various low-tier home options available to a teacher with a single income, and even more options for a teacher in a multi-income household.

Merced, an agricultural community in Central California, has the best deal for teachers seeking to buy a home in the state. Here, the median annual homeownership cost is $35,000 while the average teacher’s salary is just under $100,000.

Fresno, Bakersfield, and Modesto are also inland agricultural communities in California, where the median annual homeownership cost is just:

  • $34,700 in Fresno;
  • $36,900 in Bakersfield; and
  • $37,900 in Modesto.

Each of these teacher-friendly communities is located in an inland location, far from high-cost coastal job centers. The biggest factor separating these inland metros from other coastal cities is less restrictive zoning, and this makes all the difference for residents operating on a teacher’s income.

Zoning regulations will make or break teachers

Fewer zoning regulations allow for the cost of housing to stay in tune with local demands and incomes, especially compared to places in the state where zoning is much more restrictive.

Incomes in expensive coastal areas consistently see higher homeownership costs, and the average teacher salary actually tends to be lower than in those teacher-friendly inland communities mentioned earlier. For example:

  • Salinas holds a median annual homeownership cost of $56,700 and a median teacher salary of $63,700; and
  • San Jose holds a median annual homeownership cost of $87,600 and a median teacher salary of $90,300.

It’s not realistic for teachers to buy homes in areas like Salinas and San Jose, where the average homeownership cost eats up almost the entirety of a teacher’s salary. Even two teachers buying a home together won’t qualify to buy the average home in these high-cost, low teacher income areas.

The result is a reduced standard of living for teachers, making them more susceptible to leaving for areas of the state that offer higher incomes and lower housing costs.  As we have seen in the Bay Area, where over 95% of homes are out of range for teachers, the teacher turnover rate has skyrocketed.

More permissive zoning offers a solution for these high-cost communities. Any community member can advocate for looser zoning regulations.

Looser zoning creates a path for builders to meet high demand for housing, which permits them to build denser, taller buildings. In accordance, this creates more units per resident — allowing the cost to fall into line with local incomes. Locals can aid in these positive changes through something as simple as attending city council meetings.

As it stands, teachers looking for housing in California need to look inland.