Amber Groenke has three jobs: She is a teaching assistant at West Ottawa High School, works at an Ulta Beauty store, and is a DoorDash driver.
Last summer he was homeless.
The cost of housing in Holland was very high for a salary of $15.50 an hour as an educational assistant. While looking for housing, she commuted from her parents’ home, an hour and a half from her high school.
“I’m definitely not getting what I need,” Groenke said.
He tried resources like Michigan 211, The Salvation Army, and more. The waiting list for housing is one to two years, he said.
Groenke has since been settled in Holland with roommates, but said he struggled to fit into the community.
He is not the only teacher struggling with housing issues in the area. It’s such a challenge that the Holland Education Foundation created an initiative to help public school teachers in the Holland Public School District.
The program, called “Teachers Live Here,” gives 10 teachers $25,000 each year to cover their down payment on housing. It is the first year of implementation of the program.
Holland Public Schools Superintendent Nick Cassidy said an undisclosed donor will fund the initiative for at least seven years. He said he hopes that the help of other donors will keep this program alive.
Liliane Snoeink, who teaches first grade at the Dutch Language Academy, was the first to receive a grant.
Since receiving the award, Snoeink has found a home in Holland and is working to close the deal, Cassidy said.
“Any public school that struggles to keep teachers and teachers in their district would definitely benefit from something like this,” Cassidy said. “Anything we can do to attract the best and retain good teachers helps the community.”
Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, said incentives like Holland’s aid help reduce the high cost of living in some Michigan communities.
He said it’s important for students in areas like Holland to connect with their teachers who live in the same community as them.
The Ottawa West district, where Groenke works, has no such initiative.
While Groenke said he likes the idea of Teachers Live Here, he doesn’t trust the long-term implementation of the program because the money comes from a private donor.
“I came from a poor background where I didn’t have a good life financially,” Groenke said. “It’s hard to rely on others to have that support.”
To feel stable in his community, Groenke said teaching as a profession needs to change statewide so teachers can be paid and appreciated more.
“Unfortunately, there’s not much I can do about it other than stand up for it,” Groenke said.
“Besides, I’m grateful for my job, insurance and colleagues. It makes it a great place to work. There’s just kind of a change and more value in it,” he said.
West Ottawa High School biology teacher Samantha DeBoer commutes from Rockford every day, a drive she says can take up to two hours each way. He stays after school to practice lacrosse and doesn’t get home until 6 p.m
Deborah lives with her parents while she saves for a house. He makes $41,000 as a first-year teacher.
He said if West Ottawa had a program like the Holland teacher program, he would “go hands down for Holland.”
“If I could have gone closer, it would have taken the pressure off,” DeBoer said. “I could be spending more time on my mental health or developing lesson plans for my students or going the extra mile (to teach) that I wouldn’t spend driving.”
The housing issue is not unique to Holland, Michigan. Communities across the state and country are suffering from a lack of affordable housing. In Detroit, leaders sought to address the housing crisis and protect Detroiters from rising rents.
NPR reported Saturday that more communities are challenging single-family zoning mandates to legalize different types of housing that have traditionally been banned to make housing more affordable. Zoning considerations include duplexes, townhomes and smaller apartment buildings.
“It’s called the ‘missing middle,’ and it’s meant to fill the gap between single-family homes and high-rises,” NPR’s Margaret Barthel said.
Morgan Womack is a journalism student at Michigan State University and works with Capital News Service.