Moreland didn’t know where her family would move or if Jaden would even stay in Tucson Unified School District. He was new to Sewell at the beginning of the school year. He got involved in orchestra and was feeling comfortable. Moreland is concerned switching schools in the middle of the year will affect his ability to learn and set him behind his peers.
So far seven Sewell students who lived in the apartment building have left the school. Another 15 students, including Jaden, live in the complex, according to TUSD.
Moving in the middle of the school year is disruptive to a child’s education, said Ernest Rose, TUSD assistant superintendent in the region. Children have to adapt to a new environment and work to catch up, he said.
Sewell is a B-rated school under the state’s accountability system. At about 280 students, it’s a small school and has low staff turnover, Rose said.
It’s a desirable school, said Principal Rob Jewett.
“Families want to come here,” he said. “These families are put in positions where they can’t go to the first school of their choice.”
The first students to leave because of the rent increase at The Marquee on 5th were three brothers, in second, third and fifth grades, Jewett said. He said the kids were doing great at the school.
Sewell is within walking distance, which helps families who do not have transportation.
John B. Wright Elementary is another school that’s been affected by rising housing costs. It has a high transient population, in part because the rents are going up near the school. The school has a 50% mobility rate, which means half the student body transitions during the school year, either leaving the school or starting at the school, said Principal Deanna Campos. That means kids come, try to fit in, and soon they’re gone, she said.Campos said it’s not new that families move because of rising rents but this school year seemed especially bad.
It’s devastating for families to move midyear, she said. She wishes that new complex owners would take into consideration the end of the school year before they raise the rent.
PREVENTION JUST ISN’T FUNDED When Rocio Villa’s rent was increased, leading her to go without electricity rather than forgo food, she shared her predicament with a teacher at Mary Belle McCorkle Academy of Excellence PK-8 School on South Mission Road, where her kids went to school at the time.
That’s where she learned Our Family Services might be able to help.
“It was just a phase, a very troubled time,” Villa says, looking back on those months. She’s now working as a medical assistant and renting a new property.
“I’m just glad we got through it and we’re all OK and we’re safe.”
Villa was fortunate. When she contacted Our Family Services and asked for help, she got linked to a caseworker and received enough financial help to get her through that hard transition.
The program she enrolled in helped her avoid homelessness and get her kids through the year without switching schools. The local nonprofit is one of a few Tucson organizations providing services for families that are homeless or at risk of homelessness. But with Tucson’s changing rental market, there’s not nearly enough funding to help every family that needs it.
For the most part, “Prevention just isn’t funded,” said Laurie Mazerbo, chief program officer for Our Family Services.
What’s needed now is better data to “understand the ebbs and flows of issues around housing crisis and prevention experiences,” said Liz Morales, Tucson’s new housing director.
Morales said the city plans to do a housing study with the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management in the spring.
“We need to have a better understanding of what’s happening,” she said, “so we can have a better response to it.”