Austin’s rising housing costs raise UT’s concerns over faculty retention

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Photo Credit: Lauren Ibanez | Daily Texan Staff

Every morning, associate professor of instruction Amanda Hager leaves her home in Seguin, Texas at 7 a.m. to drive a two-hour commute to her 9 a.m. class. 

Hager, who teaches in the department of mathematics, has lived in Seguin for eight years. More than 50 miles from the University, Hager said she chooses to live outside of Austin because its housing costs are too expensive for her salary. 

“There are days when I’m very tired from teaching, and I have slept in my car in my parking garage,” Hager said. “I have taken naps in a Krispy Kreme parking lot. It’s not a dignified life.”

UT is concerned that Austin’s increasing housing costs will impact “faculty competitiveness,” according to the University of Texas System Fiscal Year 2020 budget report. Meanwhile, current nontenure track faculty, like Hager, are choosing to live as far as 50 miles from campus since they cannot afford to live in Austin. 

Nontenure track professors are contract-based faculty who teach the majority of undergraduate students at UT, said Jen Moon, assistant dean for nontenure track faculty in the College of Natural Sciences.

UT does not currently provide financial housing aid or subsidized housing to faculty or staff, said Joey Williams, director of communications for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost.

The Austin American-Statesman reported in August that two-bedroom apartments in Austin averaged about $1,489 a month. 

Moon said the starting salary for nontenure track faculty is around $40,000 a year, which makes Austin rent cost about 50% of their pretax salary. 

“For nontenure track (faculty), that’s not going to fly,” Moon said. “You can’t have them at poverty level, and you’re hiring people to live in that environment.” 

Moon said the rent makes it difficult to recruit faculty nationally because they are not getting paid enough to compensate for Austin housing. 

“If we can’t hire those people because of some of these (housing cost) restrictions … that has ramifications in our ability to teach a huge undergraduate population effectively,” Moon said.

Hager said she works up to 60 hours a week but is only on campus for 20 hours. As a result, she said she often has to take phone appointments from students instead of meeting in person. 

“I miss that immersive feeling,” Hager said. “I always feel like I have one foot in the community and one foot out. I don’t like that. I want to be here with all of my heart and soul, and I can’t do that.”

Drew Hays, assistant professor of instruction at the department of nutritional sciences, is a nontenure track faculty member and lives in Taylor, roughly 45 minutes away from UT without traffic.

Hays said she lived in Austin two years ago but moved because she could no longer afford to live in Austin. 

“Often, I don’t go to (other social or professional events) because I’m looking at being in Austin for 12 or 14 hours, and I don’t want to be away from home for that long,” Hays said. 

Despite the commutes, both Hays and Hager said they have remained at UT because they love their students.

“I have been driving since 2011, and I will keep driving because I love this job,” Hager said. “I have no plans to go anywhere.”

Editor's Note: This story has been updated since it was originally published to correct a misspelling on Hays' name. The Texan regrets this error.