It's not easy being a public school teacher in the Bay Area. Teachers in local school districts have made it clear, in one poll after another, that the high cost of living in Silicon Valley is taking its toll in the form of long commutes and an increasing chunk of their take-home pay going toward rent. The big question facing many school districts is what to do about it.
While officials at both the Mountain View Whisman and the Los Altos school districts concede that their budgets cannot support major pay increases to catch up with the high cost of rent -- let alone home ownership -- one local school board member is trying to think of new solutions.
Sangeeth Peruri, a recently-elected board member of the Los Altos School District, has made it a major goal to seek out new ways for teachers to find affordable housing that's reasonably close to their schools. Constructing teacher housing has never been seriously considered by district staff, so Peruri began working with neighboring districts, local startups and local community foundations this year to find alternatives.
The latest idea was announced late last month, when the Los Altos School District teamed up with the Los Altos Community Foundation to launch a new program that links teachers with homeowners who have a spare bedroom, apartment or in-law unit they're willing to offer at an affordable rate to a local teacher. Since the launch, the district staff has set up a virtual bulletin board for teachers and district homeowners alike, and the results are promising: about 25 people in the community have offered a mix of spare rooms and rental units, and a similar number of teachers have come forward looking for housing.
"I don't have the latest on how many have moved in so far, but there's definitely demand on both sides," Peruri said.
The program is structured in a way that homeowners are not required to offer the units at a specific cost lower than the average asking rent, but so far Peruri said all of the units appear to be at a below-market rate.
The Los Altos Community Foundation has acted as the liaison between the district and the rest of the community in Los Altos, firing off a volley of emails to the foundation's mailing list to see if anyone would be interested in helping teachers find a place to live, according to Laurel Iverson, the foundation's communication and marketing director. Iverson said she suspects a lot of families in Los Altos may be "empty nesters" with a room to spare, and having a public school teacher as a tenant has a lot of appeal.
"If you were ever going to rent out a room, a teacher would be the best person for it -- short of your grandchildren," she said.
Peruri said the program comes after a survey of 250 teachers found that, by in large, teachers are interested in living closer to where they work, and are commuting anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour each way.
Another big take-away, he said, is that housing costs have risen to the surface as a major problem facing teachers in the district. Teachers in the district made an average of $78,615 in the 2014-15 fiscal year, according to data from the California Department of Education, which is less than 75 percent of the county's median income during the same time period. Meanwhile, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment has remained above $2,300, and was even higher in Mountain View, at just under $2,600, during the first quarter of 2016, according to data from the city.
The problem crosses district borders. The Mountain View Whisman School District conducted a similar survey and found that an overwhelming majority of teachers live outside of the district's boundaries due to the high cost of rent, and nearly a quarter of the respondents say they commute more than 45 minutes to get to work every day. The district has since started exploring options to build teacher housing on district-owned property.
Peruri said there's no presumption that the new housing program introduced in July will solve all of the problems facing teachers in the Los Altos School District. Some of the teaching staff have large families and would be ill-served by a single room in a home, making the program more ideal for younger teachers.
It turns out that Peruri was also behind an effort to start a partnership between local school districts and the startup company Landed, which could provide teachers with a local funding source to put a sizable down payment on a home. Under Landed's proposed framework, investors could pool money into a fund that teachers can tap into for a 20 percent down payment on a home. Investors would have a stake of about 25 percent of the future profits, or losses, when the home is sold or refinanced.
Peruri helped bring the co-founders of Landed out to a county-wide symposium on teacher housing, and coordinated between Landed and district officials in both the Los Altos and the Mountain View-Los Altos High school districts earlier this year.
"We want to find any way we can help our teachers," Peruri said. "There's nothing more important for our children's education than our teachers."
Anyone with an available room, suite, in-law unit or apartment can join the program by contacting Erin Green, Los Altos School District's director of student and staff services, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650-947-1150. District residents living in cities outside of Los Altos, including Mountain View, are encouraged to participate.