News

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 in Palo Alto 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 at 231 Grant Ave. 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. Simitian argued in February 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. Palo Alto Unified Board of Education President Ken Dauber told the Weekly 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."

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.

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Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Kevin Forestieri writes for the Mountain View Voice, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2018 at 9:24 am

Please can someone tell me how this will solve traffic and parking as these proposed residents will be working all over Santa Clara county. I don't know how a teacher who works in Milpitas or Cupertino will use Caltrain?

I have nothing against helping teachers, but why build this at the northern tip of the county where there is poor public transportation for teachers whose spouse may work somewhere different even if the teacher actually works in Palo Alto or Mountain View.


21 people like this
Posted by No Way
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 12, 2018 at 9:32 am

Near the North County SC Courthouse in Palo Alto?

Now we're talking about adding even more congestion (cars + people) to the once quiet California Avenue neighborhood.

Build it somewhere else like in Redwood City or Alviso.



19 people like this
Posted by Field of dreams
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2018 at 9:39 am

This is more about Simitian getting in the paper then solving teacher housing need. 60 units for 5 districts? PA probably has almost a thousand teachers by itself. Plus the traffic from a project when 80% will work outside PA.


12 people like this
Posted by TONY
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2018 at 12:07 pm

I teach in PAUSD and live in Los Banos. I emailed Simitian suggesting a transportation stipend for teachers as this would have a greater impact. He never responded. His idea has so many obvious flaws.


3 people like this
Posted by long view
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2018 at 12:35 pm

long view is a registered user.

The five districts this is directed to are all close by. Not Milpitas... An affordable apartment and a short commute - that's attractive.


14 people like this
Posted by y us
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Article says Los Altos gets 12 units, so the units will be split equally between the 5 districts? City of Palo Alto & PAUSD give $3.6 million to get 12 units while every other city + school district give $600,000 to get 12 units.

Why is Palo Alto paying $3 million more than everyone else for the same number of units? Where's the part where every other city has to give $3 million?

If these people are living here they're going to be using Palo Alto city services and we will be paying for that long term as well. An extra $3 million upfront + $$$ for eternity = Very sour deal for Palo Alto.


19 people like this
Posted by Do What Some Others Do
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2018 at 1:18 pm

Cheaper to simply purchase some RVs and situate them in the school parking lots.


2 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 12, 2018 at 1:49 pm

As a tangent to this discussion, I'm told that PAUSD already owns apartments along San Antonio [the frontage road near Charleston and the Athena site] that could be converted to teacher housing if they wanted to consider it.


Like this comment
Posted by Do What Some Others Do
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Or how about if the PAUSD provided out-of-town teachers PA motel-hotel vouchers during the midweek?

Then the pro-development faction would have another feather to add to its cap.


7 people like this
Posted by Greg
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Sep 12, 2018 at 2:01 pm

The intentions behind this proposal are good, but it puts the county and school districts into the real estate speculation and apartment management business, and it assumes that they are competent in these areas. I'm skeptical.

Why not just sell the land on the open market (for use as per existing zoning), and use the proceeds to fund housing stipends to attract teachers to the county school districts in question? Then the teachers can live where they want.

Yes, housing is ridiculously expensive here. But there is no magic bullet. One way or another, we have to pay the teachers enough to live nearby. The county and school districts are biting off more than they can chew here.


6 people like this
Posted by Ex Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2018 at 3:27 pm

We once tore down a creamery and built housing for teachers and city employees, but alas it was priced out of their reach


5 people like this
Posted by ME
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Sep 13, 2018 at 11:00 am

Why not sell the land and use the money to build the units in a less expensive area of the county?


3 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 13, 2018 at 11:41 am

School districts are required to report a lot of their financial and operational data to the State Board of Education. One of these reports is called the J90 report. This data, once compiled, is available on-line.

The J90 report for the schools reporting 2016 finances shows that the average salary for Santa Clara County teachers is about $80K. Compensation data submitted to TransparentCalifornia by the PAUSD shows that the average salary for a PAUSD teacher is about $88K (again, for 2016).

Moreover, 50% of the teachers at the PAUSD are paid more than $100K.

And keep in mind that teachers will receive a 72% pension at 30 years of service--which will bring in more than $2M+ for teachers who retire making more than $100K.



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