News

Editorial: Caution on teacher housing

Simitian vision for subsidized teacher housing has long road to travel

Concern over the availability and high cost of housing on the Peninsula, particularly for lower paid retail, restaurant and other service workers essential to our local economy and to the community's diversity, has sparked lots of brainstorming and angst in Palo Alto on how to create more affordable "workforce" housing.

With sky-high land acquisition costs and concern over the impacts of higher density development being the major barriers to the construction of more lower cost housing, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian has floated the idea of building apartments for teachers on county-owned land across the street from the courthouse near California Ave.

Simitian's vision is for the county to provide the 1.5-acre parcel on Grant Ave., through a development partnership, to interested north county public school districts and the Foothill-Anza Community College District, which would fund the construction of 60 to 120 units of below-market-rate rental housing for teachers.

The concept, largely in Simitian's head right now, is that each participating school district would have control over the number of apartments proportionate to their financial contribution and would each decide how they are ultimately allocated to their teachers (or staff). His assumption, based on very preliminary conversations he has had with school superintendents, is that school districts in Mountain View, Palo Alto and Los Altos, plus the college district, could be interested, but no formal outreach or assessment has yet occurred.

On Tuesday, Simitian passed an initial hurdle by receiving support from the Board of Supervisors to have county staff work with him to explore interest in the idea, determine how to relocate the current users of the site (the county Public Defender, social services and parking), possibly to a newly constructed office and parking garage on the courthouse property itself, and find interested development partners who would make proposals to prepare a financing plan. The board's approval, which isn't limited to teacher housing, is not a commitment to do anything other than determine need, interest and financial feasibility.

Simitian, the son of a former school teacher, is enthusiastic about the possibility of creating below-market housing for teachers but acknowledges there are other housing needs, especially for lower-income workers, and many unknowns about the actual interest in teachers in such housing or how it would be funded.

In Palo Alto, most teachers are being paid well in excess of $100,000, above the income levels to qualify for current subsidized housing programs. Data obtained from the school district show that in the 2015-16 school year, more than half of Palo Alto teachers lived in the area between Redwood City and Mountain View, with the remainder concentrated in the cities just beyond. Instances of teachers commuting from farther away than San Jose were rare. No hard data has been presented showing that Palo Alto is actually having trouble hiring qualified teachers, only anecdotal stories.

While we heartily support Simitian's initiative to use land already owned by the public to develop subsidized housing, we are skeptical about the demand for such housing by teachers and whether the inherent complexity of financing and building housing that isn't eligible for federal affordable-housing funds makes this idea realistic.

There are, however, two local examples of subsidized teacher housing — one done by the Santa Clara Unified School District some 15 years ago and another by the San Mateo County Community College District, which has constructed 104 rental housing units for faculty and staff on two of its campuses. There are undoubtedly helpful lessons to be learned from these efforts.

If serious problems in recruiting and retaining excellent teachers can be documented, then in Palo Alto we wonder why the county should supply valuable land for teacher housing when the school district already has available land on surplus school sites, including at the Cubberley Community Center. Not only would this be a less complex undertaking, it would allow the county to develop housing on its site for very-low-income individuals, including seniors and service workers.

Every organization in Palo Alto — business, nonprofit and government — is struggling with the lack of affordable housing and the resulting employee-recruiting and commute challenges. So before letting teacher housing become the sole focus, we'd like to see clear evidence of need and demand and a policy discussion about whether and why teacher housing should be a higher priority than other subsidized housing when considering the re-purposing of limited public property.

The value of teachers living within the community may very well be worth making it the priority for the use of this county property, but the public deserves a lot more analysis showing such a plan will actually result in the desired outcome before reaching that policy decision.

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2018 at 9:11 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

The stats on teacher pay and residence location are quite telling. Also helpful to the discussion would be the percentage of Palo Alto teachers who are married or otherwise living in multiple-income households. A teacher living alone on even a $100K salary would have difficulty finding affordable housing in the Redwood City-Mountain View corridor as many young tech workers earning considerably more than that can testify.


12 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2018 at 10:45 am

Would indeed be interesting to explore the use of Cubberley for teacher housing. It is not clear that demographics have 'turned around' sufficiently in Palo Alto to justify another school based on children population growth alone, so may not need Cubberley for that purpose.


22 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2018 at 10:55 am

The cost of housing versus salary should be carefully considered. Although our teachers are well paid [when compared to much of the United States] the cost of living make those salaries appear quite paltry.

Providing teachers a living site is fraught with potential problems. What if the teacher leaves or retires? What if they shift districts? Perhaps something similar to the military - providing teachers a housing "allowance" which is tax free - would be a better, short term solution.

Ultimately the tech bubble / economic picture will turn around - NOTHING goes up forever (despite prognostications from some pie-in-the-sky economists). When the market softens / crashes / falls apart the districts need to be in a position to QUICKLY adjust - which is why I support a housing allowance versus building of actual structures.



40 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2018 at 12:05 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Permanently giving up any further land owned by PAUSD for anything but a new school is a bad idea. Our high schools are overcrowded. The need for more schools has so far been satisfied by overloading existing schools, diminishing the possibility that kids can walk to their neighborhood schools, once a key objective.

There has been no studies to show the impact of adding the amount of housing in Palo Alto if the housing requirements of ABAG are met over the next 20 years.

Given the pressures to increase housing in Palo Alto, and Stanford's clear plan to add hundreds of children to PAUSD, using existing land for anything but schools would only repeat errors made selling school sites in the 70's.


24 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2018 at 1:05 pm

"Ultimately the tech bubble / economic picture will turn around - NOTHING goes up forever (despite prognostications from some pie-in-the-sky economists). "

As a matter of fact, I've recently started hearing rumblings about troubles on the Big Tech front.


But Big Tech is only one facet of our housing crisis. The other is the seemingly bottomless demand from Chinese investors who are finding our real estate to be a very lucrative option. As long as we continue to allow overseas speculators to buy up our land, we'll never ease our housing crises no matter how much we build or even how much we subsidize.


1 person likes this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2018 at 1:13 pm

To the author, "MOST" of the teachers are NOT making over $100k. A simple google search or visit to transparent california and 5 minutes with a spread sheet would have revealed this info. Poor journalism, dare I say, "fake news!". [Moderator's Note: See comment below.]

They should just accept the fact that PA teachers will NEVER be able to buy a house in PA, rather a more productive use of time would be to provide them with a transportation stipend, so that when they are commuting from Los Banos, the cost won't have as big of an impact.


33 people like this
Posted by Town Square Moderator
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2018 at 2:23 pm

Town Square Moderator is a registered user.

@Bob

You are incorrect. Data provided to the Weekly by the school district shows that 70% of the teachers in PAUSD are being paid more than $100,000. Web Link

The Transparent California data you are looking at is from 2014.


20 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I posted previously (in an earlier Online article on this subject) and I raised several questions and opined that this idea wouldn't get any traction and would die on the vine.

"Data obtained from the school district show that in the 2015-16 school year, more than half of Palo Alto teachers lived in the area between Redwood City and Mountain View, with the remainder concentrated in the cities just beyond. Instances of teachers commuting from farther away than San Jose were rare. No hard data has been presented showing that Palo Alto is actually having trouble hiring qualified teachers, only anecdotal stories."

Assuming those numbers are true, then teachers' commutes aren't any longer/different than other workers earning equal, or higher, incomes. And yes, I do understand the value of having teachers, in particular, being part of our community, different then tech workers, for example.

And it should be easy to obtain data on the teachers...where they live, commute times, how many are single, married (no children), married with children, and if they are permanently housed, owners or renters, and happy or not with their current arrangement, or if they would be interested and candidates for the proposed housing. Sorry for the run-on sentence. And what is Simitian thinking about, in terms of unit size...micro, studio, 1 bdrm, or maybe even 2 bdrms? I can see where this idea would be attractive to new single teachers who are on the bottom end of the pay scale. But again, that is information available and easily retrieved, and assessed, just by asking them.

The cost of development, including moving existing parking and the other county offices, should be done by professionals, not by politicians making guesses, before any thought of moving forward with financing and developers getting involved. Get numbers that you think are valid and reasonable, and once you've got them, just double those!

How will us taxpayers be affected?

But, for all my negativism up to this point, the biggest fuss, I predict, will come from others that will rightfully speak up and voice their need for that housing, including very low, low, and median income people, that ABAG is demanding we build housing for. Yes, the county and PA bailed out the Buena Vista Park misadventure, but I get the feeling once it was done, they wanted it to be forgotten. I never hear about the required upgrades to meet code, and infrastructure, and what the rent increases are under new management, or new screening to see who was, or was not, still eligible for that housing. It's time for some good investigative reporting on that.


12 people like this
Posted by Leora
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Jan 26, 2018 at 2:40 pm

We should rehabilitate Cubberley community center and build housing above it.


15 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2018 at 2:49 pm

The former Cubberley public high school (currently community center) is an outstanding centrally-located gem! A VERZy special site! It should be a public school(s) again when the time is right. No special interests or exclusive favors or political favoritism for this site! This is worthy as the key site for the benefit of public school children in the center of our city.


12 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 26, 2018 at 3:41 pm

Right on Gale Johnson. Keep the money out of politicians control especially in California. Worry about the young and the taxpayers not some bloc of voters. Palo Alto is not the center of the universe. San Jose has plenty of land to develop, house (land) prices went up 17% in San Jose last year but the city council price fixed rents on old apartment houses at 5%. The Buena Vista, rent controls in Mountain View and rent controls in San Jose. Here comes the bust. An economists dream.
George Drysdale, land economist and initiator


12 people like this
Posted by Future looking
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 27, 2018 at 10:51 pm

How do we keep that housing only for teachers who are actually teaching and their families? In other words, what do we do once the teachers stop teaching?
Do we kick them and their families out?


6 people like this
Posted by Teachers vs. Homeless
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2018 at 1:07 am

The homeless need housing more than teachers who just need or want cheaper housing. But the homeless contribute less than teachers to the community. Which group would you like to subsidize? How about neither? [Portion removed.]


12 people like this
Posted by george drysdale
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 28, 2018 at 1:23 pm

I'm directly involved in the production of apartment houses. If government builds apartments they will be very expensive to produce, eg. Simitian. Best to use well examined vouchers. Cut out the profitable non-profits (economics again)? Should we give housing vouchers to middle income teachers? Don't they get a good steady wage already? Beware of politicians bearing gifts.
George Drysdale land economist and intiator


16 people like this
Posted by NoDoubt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 28, 2018 at 6:56 pm

No doubt we’ll have politicians insisting that we make this a “signature project “.

Like the bay bridge. Or our bike bridge, or our overpriced trouble ridden library.

They’ll find a way to make it the most expensive construction ever.

That’s another reason we shouldn’t do projects- we have a proven track record of ineptitude.


7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 29, 2018 at 3:11 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

So many of those 'critical' and 'affordable' housing needs proposals that are being put forward and thrown out at us as bait, are flawed. And for the sake of my post, please don't respond by telling about the wonderful things they're doing in Redwood City, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose. This shouldn't be a competition on housing. Let's limit the discussion to Palo Alto.

No developer will touch them unless they receive bonus benefits, and let's be honest with ourselves as residents of Palo Alto. It will never be possible to reach ABAG's mandated goals without destroying our quality of life and the character of Palo Alto, like so many of us old timers knew it, remembered it, loved it, and the reason we bought our homes here in the first place.

Would any standing CC member or future candidate be brave enough to acknowledge that?? Of course not. They get votes by giving hope and promises of more housing, more affordable housing (whatever that is in my town), and even more BMR housing. Dreamland must be wonderful! Oh, sure, if they approve way under-parked developments with micro, studio, and 1 bdrm units for singles and couples, then that helps take care of that portion of our population. Families will still be shut out. But, without enforceable leases, stating that some of those renters don't own and won't own cars while they're tenants, it's wide open to scofflaws. The developers know that and our CC knows that with the paltry number of enforcers we have on staff.

And now on to our new ADU ordinance. I rejected the idea from the beginning, arguing and relying on my background of living 80+ years, and learning a lot about human nature during those years. The lust for money and ways to make it work to bail people out that made bad decisions was ready made for the ADU proponents. Voila...ADU's to the rescue. From recent articles in local newspapers, it seems to be catching on only because it's become a money making venture and promoted by new companies involved in the marketing and financing end of it. The grand plan for 'granny units' just went down the drain. I think that was an illusion and a con game from the beginning. It's become a business enterprise. I know our CC is going to be looking at some of the problems in the current ordinance and try to make fixes to it, but they need to dig a lot deeper than the obvious ones that have been pointed out, and go back to square one...to the beginning. And they need to ask the question..."What was our purpose back when we approved it? Has is worked out like we hoped and expected?"

Oh, that would be interesting to hear their answers, but I have a hunch, just doubling our ADU's from 4 per year to 8 per year would be held up and touted as a huge success. So go the minds of our CC in solving our housing crisis without ruining our quality of life. And the beat goes on!!


11 people like this
Posted by Moderation
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2018 at 3:48 pm

I think people should let the free market work. Let Palo Alto become so expensive that the cost of living makes it impossible to hire the infrastructure it needs to operate. The quality of life will decrease and the desirability (and hence costs) of Palo Alto resources will come down.

As long as people choose to manipulate the local economy by artificially subsidizing basic needs like housing, but supressing the income of its citizens, the imbalance will continue to grow.

Alternatively, Palo Alto could simply pay its employees a living wake (living wage as defined by Palo Alto cost of living).


4 people like this
Posted by Reality
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Even if most teachers make over $100k per year, they cannot afford more than a tiny rental apartment. Assuming $200k of savings, that would allow for buying a house in the range of $750,000... and we all know there is nothing on the market in that range unless you drive 100 miles away.

In the scenario of a couple making 100k each, they can afford a home at around $1.1 million, if they can save $200k down. They might find something in the south bay or east bay (and they will get in a bidding war).

Just because there isn't an exodus of existing teachers, or challenges finding new teachers that hopefully bought 10-20 years ago, doesn't mean there isn't a looming problem as we look for the next generation of teachers who were not so lucky.

Either large housing subsidies or housing units would help. Anything that adds to the housing inventory would help (as long as it's not MORE luxury housing, which is all developers want to build).


14 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2018 at 4:42 pm

I'm a liberal, I love education, and, I also love teachers. This proposal still doesn't make any economic sense to me. Supply and demand operates in the world of teachers, also. Better, in fact, than in many professions, because there are quite a few qualified teachers out there who are not in classroom teaching at any time. IOW, supply is far more elastic than it is with, say, dentists, where you always kind of have too few or too many.

PAUSD has had no trouble getting teachers. It hasn't always hired top specialist teachers for certain teaching subjects, but, that would appear to be far more a matter of management convenience and budget rather than lack of supply. QED. This proposal doesn't seem designed to benefit Palo Alto. The combination of salary and working conditions apparently isn't as attractive in every district.

To look at this a little more carefully, it might be interested if someone had a link to a map showing where the nearby teacher shortages currently are. I have to say, though, that while governments do pretty well providing basic accommodations for soldiers, or for inmates at CalFire camps, etc., the history of higher-standard public housing hasn't been great. With teachers, there are so many different kinds, with different needs, at different stages of life, that I just don't see how any such accommodations can be provisioned adequately or fairly. How about we leave housing to the private sector, eh?


9 people like this
Posted by nomo
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2018 at 7:07 pm

Seriously? ...... housing at Cubberley?

Incredibly foolish idea, obviously put forth by people with no knowledge or perspective on PA schools.


9 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 29, 2018 at 7:12 pm

@nomo,Liz Kniss was the chief person promoting that idea in the last campaign cycle. I heard her say that a couple of times. Sure about that "no knowledge and perspective" thing?


7 people like this
Posted by Boss Hog
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2018 at 8:59 pm

@Reality,

The "reality" is, the big developers LOVE density because it is much more profitable.

A site that can accommodate one $5M luxury home can accommodate 30 cheaply constructed $1M micro-units.

Do the math.


10 people like this
Posted by nomo
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2018 at 10:01 pm

@old timer.....

yep, anyone who promotes closing our schools has no knowledge or perspective on this town's foolish history of school closures and subsequent conversions to housing.

We have recently spent tens of millions of dollars to densify existing schools after multiple schools were shut down in the 80s. Now we are left with over-densified schools in remote locations.

Kids in south PA have to bike across alma expressway, the train tracks, and el camino to get to Gunn. What an incredibly dangerous, environmentally unfriendly, and challenging set of obstacles she is promoting for our kids.

Cut down on traffic, make our kids morning bike ride safer, and give them a reasonable commute. Cubberley should be re-opened as a HS for south Palo Alto kids. Not as housing.

If kniss promotes converting neighborhood school sites to housing, then she is way out of touch.


4 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 29, 2018 at 10:34 pm

@Nomo, I think the idea is to build housing on a few acres of the ~40 acre site, not the whole thing. The school board decided a couple years ago not to build another school at Cubberley and instead build on the existing sites. I guess they're all out of touch!


7 people like this
Posted by NoDoubt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2018 at 10:45 pm

All city and school owned land should be leased out. Never sold.

Cubberly, if not needed for the foreseeable future, should be put out on a 20-30 year lease.

That’s long enough for someone to invest in improvements and make profit. Better than letting it crumble into decay and homeless encampments.

When the lease is done, scrape whatever is there and build a school. It will actually be profitable and managed.

Selling it as houses to teachers? That’s a stupid move. And irreversible.


11 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 30, 2018 at 2:21 am

Online Name is a registered user.

The need for new schools may come sooner than thought if the Stanford expansion is approved, along with the possible need for tax-exempt housing in Palo Alto.

Read today's article for details, Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2018 at 8:25 am

Posted by nomo, a resident of Barron Park

>> yep, anyone who promotes closing our schools has no knowledge or perspective on this town's foolish history of school closures and subsequent conversions to housing.

nomo -- I guess you and I still don't get this decision after 35-40 years. Back in the late 70's, the school board decided that fewer big schools were more cost effective than more small schools. I'm still not convinced.



8 people like this
Posted by What a pity
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 30, 2018 at 12:05 pm

And yet city taxpayers bought a house for City Manager Keene (and many senior management staff) who receives more pay and benefits than the President of the United States. Not only that, but taxpayers pay for his property taxes, home renovations, landscaping, home repairs, etc.,etc.
What a wonderful world we live in that we can give a civil servant such benefits at taxpayer expense!
What a pity!


2 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2018 at 7:29 pm

Palo Alto teachers median salary is $100K while teachers in Oakland elementary schools start at $48K who have to deal with much more difficult situations, kids and families. So Palo Alto teachers are having much easier jobs with job security for the tenured ones. And quite a few tenured teachers are frankly so mediocre and sometimes outright bad but it is nearly impossible to let them go.

[Moderator's note: Keep in mind you are comparing median salary to starting salary. Starting teacher salary in Palo Alto (the lowest point on the salary scale) is $65,000.]


2 people like this
Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2018 at 10:39 pm

eileen is a registered user.

Keep in mind that this housing is not being built only for Palo Alto teachers. The property is owned
by the county of Santa Clara so the housing will be open to all teachers in the area who qualify.
This housing will most likely be built for teachers who will be driving a car to other cities to teach.


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

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