Last month, the Mountain View City Council gave the green light to four projects that could bring up to 1,600 new homes to the city. The smallest of the projects to win the right to move forward at the Dec. 8 meeting, however, was a little different from the rest.
Mountain View Academy is a small, private high school located at 360 South Shoreline Blvd., and for years school officials said they have been trying to find ways to keep the teaching staff in the area despite Silicon Valley's rising cost of living. The school now has plans to build teacher housing right on the campus.
The average cost of rent in Mountain View has increased by 53 percent in the last four years, blasting ahead of the teacher salaries at the Seventh-day Adventist school, according to Principal Jerry Corson. He said teacher retention hasn't been a big issue, but teachers have struggled to keep up with rent increases.
"At a staff meeting just before Christmas, one teacher said her apartment rent went up by $800," Corson said. "She was trying to figure out what to do."
Many of the teaching staff is forced to live far away from campus, and is stuck with a long commute to work every day. Corson said he has to drive in from South San Jose every morning because he can't afford to live here. His commute takes about 40 minutes when he leaves home at 6:20 a.m., he said.
Over the years, Mountain View Academy has been buying up adjacent properties -- including a handful of homes and four "dilapidated" structures -- and as of six years ago it had acquired the entire block. Now the school has enough space to build a 12,000-square-foot apartment building with seven units, enough to house nearly a third of the school's staff. The apartments will be rented out by teachers at below-market rate, but specific details have yet to be figured out. Corson said he is confident it will have a positive effect on the teachers, who will to be able to live in the area and have no commute.
"I think teachers will find themselves happier, and they'll do a better job and feel better about where they're working," Corson said.
Mountain View Academy's problems are certainly not unique. Teachers in several local school districts, including the Mountain View Whisman School District, have voiced their concerns about the rising rents that have fast-outpaced their salaries. The issue triggered a months-long standoff between the Mountain View Educators Association and the Mountain View Whisman School District over salary increases.
The housing project at Mountain View Academy, while small, represents one of the latest steps local schools have taken to give teachers a helping hand. On the same day that the Mountain View City Council approved a so-called gatekeeper request for the private school's housing project, the Cupertino Union School District announced its own ambitious plan to build 200 units for teachers and other school staff. The housing project is expected to give teachers an alternative to the a rental market where they will "never be able to compete with the wages of local tech companies," according to a district press release.
In Mountain View, plans for teacher housing may also be on the horizon. Mountain View City Council member John McAlister told the Voice that he has spent the last two years spearheading an effort to get the city to buy up apartment complexes, which could then be turned into subsidized units for teachers working in Mountain View.
Through the city's Below Market Rate (BMR) housing ordinance, the city could give priority to teachers and public safety employees working in Mountain View, which could help school districts retain teaching staff. Schools need some level of continuity, McAlister said, and it's hard to do that when so many teachers can't afford to live here.
"I'm trying to get our city to buy apartment complexes, take them off the market and make them affordable," McAlister said. "If we can do that then we could potentially rent them to teachers."
McAlister said he specifically has his eyes on the future LinkedIn developments in North Bayshore, which will yield as much as $40 million in fees to the city. He said the city could potentially take $10 million of that money up front and use that to purchase a housing complex -- an idea he called an "experiment" that has never been tried by the city.
Private developments also have BMR housing units available with teachers receiving priority status, McAlister said. But in talking with superintendents at local Mountain View school districts, he said it's clear that many teachers either aren't taking advantage of the program or aren't aware it exists.
McAlister said he requested the superintendents put out a survey to assess just how big the need is for teacher housing, but that he hasn't received responses yet.
Jonathan Pharazyn, president of the Mountain View Educators Association, said he has not met with McAlister about the prospect of teacher housing in Mountain View. Pharazyn, who represents teachers in the Mountain View Whisman School District, told the Voice in September that the high cost of housing is a top concern for teachers, and that lack of affordability is causing the district to hemorrhage teaching staff. The district had to hire more than 50 new teachers for the 2015-16 school year, bringing the grand total of teachers hired to 170 in the last four years, Pharazyn said. The district employs a total of about 250 teachers.
The loss of teaching staff continued to worsen this year despite two relatively large pay increases. In 2014, teachers received a 5 percent increase to the pay scale, followed by a 4 percent increase in 2015.
In order to stem the loss of teachers, Pharazyn has advocated for the district to think "creatively" about partnerships with the city of Mountain View and big corporations to make Mountain View a more attractive place for teachers. Right now, he said, living in the area is largely impossible for many teachers, particularly those on the lower end of the salary schedule. And the commute to Mountain View is horrible, he said.
The situation is a little different at the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, where the teaching staff are some of the highest paid in the state. The salary schedule for the 2014-15 school year ranged from $71,293 to $134,716, depending on education level and number of years in the district. Still, Superintendent Jeff Harding said the high cost of housing can be challenging for school staff.
One working model for teacher housing is already up and running in the South Bay. Following the dot-com bubble that squeezed teachers out of the area, the Santa Clara Unified School District decided to build dozens of apartments on district-owned land, where teachers can live within close proximity of work at a below-market rate price for a maximum of seven years.
Corson said his goals are much the same -- giving teachers a chance to live right on the campus and giving school administrators some peace of mind, knowing they'll be able to retain their teaching staff amid the crazy rental market.
"The only problem is it'll be hard for them to come up with an excuse for being late to work," Corson joked.