The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to set aside $6 million in an affordable-housing fund toward the potential construction of a below-market-rate complex in Palo Alto for teachers and school staff.
The board approved a staff recommendation on a 4-0-1 vote, with Supervisor Dave Cortese abstaining. Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed in January that the county seek funding partnerships with local school districts, cities and private funders to redevelop a county-owned site at 231 Grant Ave., near the California Avenue Business District. His office, local teachers unions and housing organizations have described teachers' desperate need for more affordable housing closer to where they work.
Simitian described the $6 million — which will come from a fund generated by Stanford University under the university's 2000 General Use Permit with the county — as a "modest commitment" that will be leveraged to find further financial support for the project.
Cortese, however, said he wasn't convinced this is the best model for addressing teacher housing needs.
"In my years as a school board member we looked at this kind of a model and then dismissed it as an inefficient way of providing affordable housing for teachers relative to putting money aside in funds that would be used for actual, direct cash subsidies for teachers," he said.
The county could instead use $6 million to provide $500 monthly stipends to teachers and staff rather than get tied up in fair housing rules, construction cost and debates over who can access the 60 to 120 housing units, Cortese said.
Simitian previously estimated that construction of a multifamily complex could cost $500,000 to $600,000 per unit.
Cortese said the largest teachers' association in his district, which includes San Jose, Milpitas and Sunnyvale, does not support the proposed housing model.
Simitian compared the financial pledge to one the Board of Supervisors made in 2015 to help prevent the Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in Palo Alto from closing. The city of Palo Alto and the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County committed millions of dollars in response.
"We need to put something out there that somebody else could respond to," Simitian told his colleagues before their vote on Tuesday.
Supervisor Cindy Chavez also asked staff to return with a proposal for engaging with school board associations in a broader conversation about school districts and land use in Santa Clara County.
Several local educational and housing entities have written letters of support for the Grant Avenue housing proposal, including the Palo Alto Educators Association, the superintendent of the Mountain View Los Altos High School District, the chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the San Jose Teachers Association, California Teachers Association, Bay Area Forward and Support Teacher Housing.