A proposal to build affordable housing for local teachers and staff in Palo Alto took another step forward on Tuesday with the Palo Alto Unified school board directing staff to identify a funding source to contribute to the project.
The board took no formal action but all expressed support for the project, which has been spearheaded by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian since early last year. He is hoping to build from 60 to 120 housing units on county-owned land at 231 Grant Ave., across from the Palo Alto Courthouse, for teachers and staff from districts who agree to support the project financially.
In order to fully fund the project — now estimated at $48 million — Simitian is banking on five regional school districts to pay $600,000 for their share of the units. The Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Mountain View Whisman School District and Los Altos School District have taken action to find funding and the Mountain View Los Altos District is in process of doing so, Simitian said.
The Palo Alto City Council has also set aside $3 million in developer fees for the project and the Board of Supervisors, $6 million from a fund generated by Stanford University under the university's 2000 general use permit with the county. The county is also contributing to the 1.5-acre site, valued at $12 million.
To construct a 60-unit building, it would cost about $600,000 per unit, Simitian said.
Supporters of the housing proposal have described the cascading effects the region's increasingly unaffordable housing has on teachers, staff and students, from long commutes that make it difficult for employees to participate in after-school events to the district's ability to attract and retain quality staff. School employees are often described as belonging to the "missing middle" — making too much to qualify for low-income housing but not enough to afford costly rents or housing prices in the cities they work in. Several Palo Alto teachers shared their personal experiences with this on Tuesday night.
It's not yet clear exactly how many units will be available and what each district's share will ultimately be. Simitian told the board that the "modest" estimate of 60 units is "not a solution" but a starting point to solve a complex problem.
"If you want people to build other projects and other units you have to demonstrate that it's doable, that there's a model that works," he said Tuesday.
Board members agreed and expressed interest in taking advantage of as many units as possible at the future complex. They also asked staff to take a more comprehensive look at the problem by examining other funding options and housing alternatives.
"The more dollars that are involved, the more incumbent it is for us to understand what the alternatives are," said board member Ken Dauber.
The county is currently putting together a request for proposals to find a nonprofit partner to lead the project through the design and development process.