Teacher housing proposal gains traction

School districts asked to pitch in $600K for affordable units

A proposal to build affordable housing for North County school employees is picking up steam, after one local school district agreed to "identify" and set aside $600,000 to help finance the project. Four other local school districts are being asked to follow suit.

The housing idea, spearheaded by County Supervisor Joe Simitian earlier this year, proposes constructing at least 60 housing units on county-owned land in Palo Alto exclusively for teachers and school faculty. In order to pay for the steep costs of the project -- estimated at $36 million -- Simitian is banking on each of the five regional school districts to pony up $600,000 for their share of the units.

The Mountain View Whisman School District, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Los Altos School District, Palo Alto Unified School District and the Foothill-De Anza Community College District are all being asked to join. The multilaterial partnership is still conceptual in nature, and key details like the total number of units and the cost of rent could change prior to final approval.

The first district to jump on the opportunity was Foothill-De Anza, when the board of trustees voted unanimously on Aug. 27 to find sources of funding that could be used to pay for the district's contribution. Foothill-De Anza isn't exactly in a strong financial position, with declining enrollment and deficit spending on the horizon, but trustees have voiced interest in finding ways to attract and retain staff.

In a letter to school officials, Simitian wrote that many teachers find themselves unable to pay for the high cost of housing in Silicon Valley and are frequently priced out of the area. While this rings true for many residents outside of the profession as well, Simitian stated that teachers often find themselves making too much to qualify for low-income housing but too little to actually afford to rent or buy a home.

"It's better for everyone -- folks trying to avoid traffic, kids getting an education, school districts trying to hire and retain the very best teachers for our schools, and of course our teachers themselves -- when our teachers can live in or close to the communities where they teach," Simitian said in a statement following the Foothill-De Anza vote.

Los Altos School District board members agreed last week that it was premature to throw their weight behind the proposal and commit $600,000 in funding, and that several questions would need to be answered first. Trustees asked staff to come back with information on employee interest in the proposal, expected rents, how rental income would be used and how long teachers could remain in the housing units. Despite the cautious approach, some board members showed early support for the idea.

"I definitely think we progress down the path with this," said board member Jessica Speiser. "It's a great movement to help teachers in any way we can."

Los Altos Superintendent Jeff Baier said that Simitian's plan, which has taken shape over the last few months, would likely cost the district $200,000 each year for three years, and in exchange the district would gain access to 12 two-bedroom housing units within the development. The financing structure for the proposal also makes a big ask of the county -- which has set aside $6 million for the project -- and the city of Palo Alto, which is being asked to commit $3 million. The rest of the $24 million in estimated costs wold come from low- or no-interest loans from investors.

The proposal circumvents the high cost of land, often seen as a major barrier for affordable housing developments, by building the project on county-owned land next to the Palo Alto courthouse located at 231 Grant Ave. Simitian argued in Feb. 2017 that the plot of land was "dramatically underutilized" and could be a potential site for affordable housing during a discussion on how to spend $950 million in Measure A funding.

The remaining school districts have yet to hold a public meeting on Simitian's idea. Mountain View-Los Altos High School District Superintendent Jeff Harding said he is open to talk about the proposal, but the letter he received from Simitian's office was simply outlining a general concept rather than a solid proposal. The district does not have plans to discuss its involvement in the partnership, he said.

Mountain View Whisman board members also have yet to weigh in, and district officials say it's not on any future agendas. Board member Tamara Wilson said in an email that she wasn't prepared to throw her support behind the housing project -- citing a need for more information -- but she said she's open to the idea.

"Any teacher housing investment that is financially sound and supports quality teacher retention in MVWSD will get my support," she said.

Palo Alto Unified Board of Education President Ken Dauber said that the board’s agenda-setting committee recently decided to discuss the proposal in several months as part of a “more comprehensive review of alternatives for addressing teacher housing.”

“Speaking personally, I appreciate Supervisor Simitian's initiative in developing this proposal and raising the visibility of this issue,” Dauber said. “I look forward to looking at creative alternatives for meeting the housing needs of the district's teachers and other staff members.”

The Palo Alto board last discussed the project in January, when trustees directed staff to begin talks with the county and agreed to send a letter of support but were careful not to include the action of "initiating cost-sharing discussions."

Palo Alto Weekly reporter Elena Kadvany contributed to this report.

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5 people like this
Posted by bad deal for the Land Rich
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 11, 2018 at 11:25 pm

The MVWSD is a Land Rich organization that can trade some of that land - for other government (City) land. Put Teacher housing just for MVWSD teachers with rent and ground lease (for sale) restrictions. Only for local teachers, no stealing teachers from our relatively revenue-poor district [that's what MV-LA and PAUSD do for some of our middle and elementary school teachers]

The only way MVWSD can make "teacher retention" work with housing as a carrot - is to control the string and stick holding the carrot!

Otherwise - MVWSD teachers, if residing in Palo Alto teacher housing - will just try to become PAUSD teachers, or MV-LA teachers residing in their Palo Alto teacher housing.

PAUSD and especially MV-LA use their revenue wealth wisely. They beat the MVWSD salary schedules by a mile and will continue to do so

Simitian's "Palo Alto proposal" is good for PAUSD, and Good for MV-LA, and may be Good for Foothill-De Anza. It is foolish for MVWSD.

21 people like this
Posted by Robin
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 12, 2018 at 12:50 am

Robin is a registered user.

Convert all schools to housing with no room for students. Retire all teachers. Cancel all pensions. Re-elect Donald Trump. Transfer all wealth to Vladimir Putin. Just a few scattered thoughts.

36 people like this
Posted by Nora S.
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 12, 2018 at 11:59 am

A total of sixty units of teacher housing for five school districts? That makes twelve lucky teachers per district. Mountain View Whisman has 303 teachers, so that means 291 (96%) would get no benefit from this project. I support programs that will help our district retain excellent teachers, but dollar for dollar, why is this proposal preferable to giving all teachers a housing allowance?

3 people like this
Posted by Christine C
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 12, 2018 at 2:30 pm

We really need to support teacher housing - especially for key teaching positions like special education which has immense turnover that is very damaging to this very sensitive community of students. MVWSD has a lot of land and I wish they could have a much larger scale project in place - but something is better than nothing. I hope that MVWSD Board takes a look at this proposal - and if they aren't happy - please come up with their own plan for affordible teacher housing! I dream of a thriving multi-use project with housing for teachers, public employees, low income and disabled residents - but I am a bit nuts for still being hopeful.

15 people like this
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Bayshore
on Sep 12, 2018 at 2:38 pm

Christopher Chiang is a registered user.

While everyone in the valley is trying to solve the housing issue for talented workers, and the district is no different, except the MVWSD owns land. So why not allow teacher owned tiny homes on school lots. These wouldn't be RVs, but "cute" moveable homes.

Each school site has field space that is not used, that can be fenced off. I've heard teachers report they would leap at a chance to buy their own tiny home to park on district land if ever given a chance, in order to build equity.

Tiny homes are ideal since they pack a punch in density, don't cost the district other than land prep, building an enclosure, teachers have a strong resale market for tiny homes (ADU and their movable nature makes them sellable).

Furthermore, tiny homes on school sites don't add to traffic. School parking lots are largely empty at night, and teachers would already be on their work site.

This along with loan assistance (Landed) could provide a diverse package of solutions to retain teachers at low obligation and cost to the district.

94 people like this
Posted by Dumbfounded
a resident of Gemello
on Sep 12, 2018 at 2:40 pm

Trustees voted “to find sources of funding...“. What the heck does that mean? Where will this money be “found” and what gets cut as a result? While my kids have to move out of state to afford housing my tax dollars will be spent to provide 12 lucky teachers per district affordable housing so they don’t have to commute. This is really dumb.

27 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2018 at 2:54 pm

"Find sources of funding" no doubt means new taxes to subsidize the effort!

4 people like this
Posted by Alex M
a resident of Willowgate
on Sep 12, 2018 at 4:17 pm

I find it strange that other countries consider the teaching profession valuable and pay their educators accordingly. In this country, grade-school teachers are typically not well paid. If they were, we wouldn't be talking about affordable housing for them, but maybe instead talk about affordable housing for families of students to live near schools.

92 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 12, 2018 at 5:32 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

The myth of "affordable housing" is just that --- a very cruel myth for ambitious politicians and well-meaning fools. Housing today is Not Even Remotely "affordable". This is just a huge political problem to decide who gets stuck with the un-affordable costs --- taxpaying residents, the school district, or taxpayers of the school district or the County. Just make sure that is not on prime MV real estate or in prime 'hoods. We have far too much high-rise development on quality land in MV already. Finally, my advice to MV --- don't deal with the County. Keep this problem under local control.

11 people like this
Posted by Scams galore
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2018 at 9:16 pm

Something taxpayers should be aware of is that affordable housing is not monitored after it’s sold. A person can qualify for the BMR housing then in a subsequent year increase their income, get married, etc and nobody in authority is the wiser. It’s a boon for the recipient. Some even move out of their affordable housing and use it as a rental property (at market rates) so a further windfall from the income. Affordable housing should never be available for purchase, only for rent and even then recipients should be required to provide yearly tax returns in order to remain in the property.

Also, providing affordable housing for a select sector of the population is discriminatory- it should be equally available to all whose incomes qualify. Nobody likes commuting but it’s a fact of life if you live in the Bay Area. Teachers aren’t more special than other employees.

13 people like this
Posted by MyOpinon
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2018 at 4:24 am

rookie cop in Mountain View makes 100k+, a school teacher should too Pay the teachers a living wage!!

4 people like this
Posted by bad deal for the Land Rich
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 13, 2018 at 11:33 am

@William Hutchens is correct in my opinion. Keep the control local. Keep it under MVWSD control with MVWSD rules. For rentals that is very clear - you a MVWSD with limited family income (that can be checked in real application) then step on up for the affordable housing [year-to-year lease]! You not a MVWSD employee anymore - thanks for your service to MVWSD, hope you find a home in Palo Alto or Los Altos to go along with your higher salary!

In Santa Clara USD, in San Mateo Community College District, and in Stanford University and University of Santa Cruz - teacher/faculty/staff housing has land deed restrictions. This has worked well for recruitment and retention,. The best match is SCUSD if you talk about K-12 teacher rental housing on public land.

Government land of MVWSD includes 10 acres immediately adjacent to Cooper (City) Park. That land can be traded for City owned vacant land in other parts of Mountain View. is happy, some future (moderate income?) teachers of MVWSD are happy, administration of MVWSD is happy with a better reacher recruitment and retention ratio.

Gov. Brown is happy - more teachers walking to school, less teachers driving to school from long distances away. The Bay Area Air Quality District is happy "because transportation is such a large source of emissions, some neighborhoods have (carbon) footprints three of four times larger than others". "The research, published online, can be used to target policies and programs to help similar communities speed up their adoption of carbon-efficient" policies. Merc News Sept 13, page one story.

"Think globally, act locally," Jones said.

8 people like this
Posted by A School Staff Member
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 13, 2018 at 2:00 pm

It's heartening to know that our community supports efforts to help teachers in our districts. However, it should be noted that support staff at these schools and colleges make far less than faculty (with no option to take overload classes to make even more). If teachers and instructors are being considered for such affordable housing opportunities, so should school support staff for without whom these schools could not function.

Like this comment
Posted by Christopher Chiang
a resident of North Bayshore
on Sep 23, 2018 at 8:45 am

From EdWeek, "From Teacher Villages to Tiny Homes: Housing Benefits for Educators" Web Link

"Tiny houses could be the right fit: The tiny-house movement has been gaining ground in recent years, as smaller houses—up to about 400 square feet and often movable—are known for being more cost-efficient, eco-friendly, and affordable. The Vail Unified school district in Arizona is planning to build up to 24 tiny (and "luxury," according to the associate superintendent) homes for its teachers on district land."

"Teachers Village is a mixed-use community that stretches for five blocks in downtown Newark, N.J. It includes charter schools, a day-care facility, and tutors. 'Teachers' villages' try to offer more than just living: Community spaces, shopping, and dining are just a few of the incentives some districts are trying to provide with help from developers. In Newark, N.J., a teachers' village erected by the developer RBH Group includes three charter schools, a day-care center, more than 200 rental units geared toward regular public and charter school teachers, and such extras as spare classrooms, a gym, and retail. The group has similar future projects underway in Hartford, Conn., and in Chicago."

2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 23, 2018 at 6:37 pm

We don't need "tiny houses" for teachers. Build some normal apartments and stop trying to appease NIMBYs.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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