With five North County school districts now offering support and funds, Santa Clara County officials are seeking a developer to build a teacher housing complex in Palo Alto.
The county issued what's called a Request for Proposals (RFP) on Thursday, Feb. 14, seeking a developer to build a housing project with no less than 60 units at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto, currently home to county courthouse facilities. The units would be exclusively available to five local school districts for teacher housing.
The RFP comes after a monthslong effort by Supervisor Joe Simitian to collect support — and money — for the housing proposal, which is still conceptual and could include anywhere from 60 to 120 units. Since August 2018, a total of five districts agreed to partner with the county and tentatively agreed to pitch in $600,000 each for an equal stake in the units built.
Partner districts include the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, the Mountain View Whisman School District, the Palo Alto Unified School District and the Los Altos School District. Trustees of the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, the final holdout, agreed on Feb. 4 to join in on the partnership, albeit with strings attached.
In an email, Mountain View-Los Altos board president Phil Faillace told the Voice that the district would only put forward the $600,000 in funding if the project could guarantee "full and unconstrained control" over the terms and conditions of the district's share of the units, and that the costs would eventually be paid back to the district in full. The vote passed 4-0, with Sanjay Dave absent.
Simitian has talked about using the "underutilized" site adjacent to the North County courthouse for housing since early 2017, later announcing his intent to use the property for teacher housing. The estimated $36 million in required funding to build the project will come from a myriad of sources, including the county's affordable housing fund ($6 million), the city of Palo Alto ($3 million) and $600,000 from each of the five school districts ($3 million). That leaves $24 million in low- or no-interest loans that could be paid off with rental income from school employees.
The teacher housing idea comes at a time when Peninsula teachers are struggling to keep up with the high cost of living, with rent and mortgages far exceeding what's affordable on a teachers' salary. Surveys show many teachers live far from where they work, with lengthy commutes of 45 minutes to an hour each way.
Teachers often fall under what's called the "missing middle," households that make too much to qualify for most subsidized housing but not enough to afford market-rate housing. Cities report few, if any, new housing units being built or approved for people making between 80 and 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) each year, currently at about $125,000 in Santa Clara County for a family of four.
"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 Friday.
The RFP will accept submissions from developers through May 13, with a date to award the contract tentatively set for Aug. 13. The RFP asks developers to "strive to optimize the unit count (not less than 60 units) ... and the design should take into account the legitimate concerns of the neighborhood and be consistent with the character of the community." The mix of units, ranging from lofts and studios to one- and two-bedroom units, will be tailored for the needs of district teachers.
The RFP also calls on developers to assist future teacher residents in securing "new housing opportunities" at the end of their tenure at the site, including savings plans, homeownership counseling and "financial literacy."
The county is also hoping to hang on to the existing commercial space on the property, amounting to approximately 8,000 square feet, as well as include some open space at the location.
The project would add to another major teacher housing milestone reached last year, when the city of Mountain View and the Mountain View Whisman School District unveiled plans to build a 716-unit apartment complex with 144 units set aside for teachers, school staff and city employees.