Facebook donates $25 million for Palo Alto teacher housing project | News | Palo Alto Online |


Facebook donates $25 million for Palo Alto teacher housing project

Funding will increase the number of units, school districts included

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A plan to build housing in Palo Alto for regional teachers and school staff has received a major boost: a $25 million donation from social media giant Facebook.

Menlo Park-based Facebook and Santa Clara County Supervisor and Board President Joe Simitian, who has spearheaded the project, announced the donation Thursday morning. Simitian called it an "exceptional gift" for the future development at 231 Grant Ave.

"It helps our teachers. It helps our schools. And it helps our communities," Simitian said. "From the beginning, Facebook 'got it'...the importance of affordable teacher housing in the communities where teachers teach."

The money will increase the number of homes the project can offer — between 90 and 120 homes, up from a previous minimum of 60 units — and include staff from additional school districts in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The housing will be available to teachers and school staff from the Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Whisman School District, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Ravenswood City School District, Menlo Park City School District, Las Lomitas School District, Sequoia Union High School District, Los Altos School District and Foothill-De Anza Community College District. Leadership from five districts -- Palo Alto, Mountain View Los Altos, Mountain View-Whisman, Los Altos and Foothill-De Anza -- have directed their staffs to identify potential funding sources to contribute to the project.

The project has also gained financial support from the county Board of Supervisors ($6 million) and Palo Alto City Council ($3 million).

The county would not provide an updated total cost for the project but past estimates have ranged from $36 million to $48 million.

Facebook's $25 million contribution comes from the company's Teacher Housing Program, which started in 2017 and currently provides 22 affordable housing units for teachers from the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto.

"We're excited to deepen our commitment to housing for people across the economic spectrum," John Tenanes, Facebook's vice president for real estate, said in the announcement. "We hope partnerships like this can inspire other communities to develop their own innovative solutions to providing housing for teachers and other public service professionals, keeping them in the communities that depend on them."

Simitian first proposed the project in January 2018 as a response to the rising cost of living in the area, which local teachers have said is making it increasingly difficult to afford homes close to where they work. A survey on staff housing conducted by the Palo Alto school district found that 59% of respondents (who were mostly teachers) are considering leaving the district within the next five years due to housing costs or long commutes. Unaffordable rental and housing costs are the top reasons that prevent staff from moving closer to work, the survey found.

School districts throughout the Bay Area are either considering or moving forward with teacher housing projects. The Palo Alto Unified school board was set to discuss the topic on Tuesday but postponed due to a long meeting.

Last year, the Mountain View City Council and Mountain View Whisman School District approved a 716-unit apartment complex at 777 W. Middlefield Road, with 144 units set aside for teachers, school staff and city employees.

In August, the county approved two partners, Mercy Housing and Abode Communities, to co-develop the 1.5-acre, county-owned site. Adobe Communities, a Los Angeles affordable housing nonprofit, has experience in bringing workforce teacher housing off the ground.


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21 people like this
Posted by Don't do anything extra
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2019 at 10:45 am

It's inappropriate to use public assets, land, tax dollars, for one special interest. Public assets should benefit the public. PAUSD has the highest salary levels in the state for a unified school district and has no trouble recruiting personnel --- even though the union bargaining dictates that the high school calculus teacher gets paid the same as the elementary school PE teacher. In fact, one analysis shows that the average PAUSD salary on a daily basis (they don't work the whole year) beats the average tech worker's salary in the Bay Area. Health and pension benefits are richer. Given the unfunded pension liabilities for the District ($252 million for teachers and staff), for the City ($455 million), and the County ($3.9 million), public assets should be devoted to paying down public debts. Otherwise --- each Palo Alto resident will have to pony up for the mismanagement. PAUSD can pay even higher salaries to assist with high housing costs. Focus on your mission - to educate students.

10 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2019 at 11:40 am

What Will They Do Next is a registered user.

My guess is that administrative costs will go through the roof. Typical government waste.

8 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 17, 2019 at 11:55 am

Gee $25 million. Thats 4 or 5 homes in PA. Way to go.

23 people like this
Posted by A Paly Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 17, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Umm, so 120 new houses for teachers. Assuming in average each teacher family have two school age children, PAUSD will get 240 new students.

At over $20,000 annual budget per student ($20,682 for 2019-20), PAUSD will need almost $5 million annual to educate these students.

I assume these housing is exempt from property taxes.

So my question is:

Who is going to pay for the $5 million that will increase every year?

5 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 17, 2019 at 1:06 pm


Enrollment is dropping and the average number of kids per unit will not be as high as you estimate.

The schools will need additional students to avoid laying off teachers.

That’s why Simitians’s hold up of Stanford is a farce.

2 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 17, 2019 at 1:06 pm

@Paly Parent, it will depend on what gets built. The limited amount of teacher housing built to date has been primarily 1-2 BR apartments, and tends to cater to younger teachers. Typically this housing is time-limited as well, usually 5-7 years before the tenant has to leave. So generally there have been very few school age children at these developments.

4 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Oct 17, 2019 at 1:11 pm

Easy buy-in for Facebook to get Street cred in Menlo Park and EPA. $400K per unit is quite a deal for it to provide housing for its home town teachers.

Question is - after the units are built, who gets the proceeds of the rents? Is it a slush fund for the school district?

3 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2019 at 1:38 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@A Paly Parent - Not all of the housing will be for PAUSD (even though they're using Palo Alto/Santa Clara County land). Who knows how they'll split that up. I would assume PAUSD can afford to pay more than Ravenswood, but does that mean that PAUSD gets more units? I doubt it.

As for the question of who will pay for any increase, do you really think the current board will worry about that? By the time these are built and rents are coming in, current board members will be long gone.

The assumption is that the property taxes on the units, plus the rents, will pay for educating any students, I believe. I doubt anyone's every pencilled out any projections, however.

The fact that an increase in donations automatically triggered the response to build more units is fairly alarming. Instead of decreasing the amount of public funds needed, they've essentially increased the public funds that will be needed going forward.

15 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 17, 2019 at 2:24 pm

The teachers already have over 300 of their children attending PAUSD - out of district - not contributing one dime toward their cost of education at PAUSD. @$20k/student, that's $6 million right now.

If enrollment goes down, it goes down. And teachers may be laid off. So? Maybe that will give a chance for PAUSD to pay off the unfunded $252 million for teacher and staff pensions. Their employment isn't guaranteed. Otherwise us property owners will get assessed for their financial mismanagement.

16 people like this
Posted by Dishonest
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 17, 2019 at 3:03 pm

Let's see - PAUSD fiscal and operational management.....didn't they just blow $6 million due to an administrative blunder? And miscalculated property taxes by $5 million before that? And spent $2 million on legal expenses b c they refused to follow the law? And paid out $$ settlements to students for not following the law? And didn't they just reveal they'll be cited for disproportionate designation of minorities in special education---again? And didn't they just reveal that socio economically disadvantaged students are performing poorly in PAUSD? And weren't the dyslexic parents just saying Tuesday that their kids aren't served? And isn't it true that only 25% of disabled PAUSD students graduate meeting a-g requirements? And didn't they shortchange PAUSD students of their instructional minutes ....again? What could possibly go wrong?

1 person likes this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 17, 2019 at 5:39 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Does anyone know how, or if, PAUSD is compensated for VTP students? Do their property taxes get transferred over to PAUSD?

If not, then there are two groups of students, those of employees that live out of the district and those attending through VTP that do not contribute to PAUSD revenues. So, why is the board so focused on Stanford paying their fair share? I agree that Stanford should pay for the students added due to their housing. But why isn't the district trying to have ALL students be funded? Seems only fair.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 17, 2019 at 6:21 pm

1 - yes, VTP students come with some state funding. It comes from the state, not Ravenswood, which is state funded.

2 - PAUSD decided to allow children of staff to attend. This seems to be a compensation decision to drive recruitment and retention.

#1 is based on a consent agreement PAUSD entered into, enforced by a court; PAUSD has no option but to take the students and the funding provided. #2 is a compensation choice they made, so presumably they perceive it is worth it; besides, who would they try to get funding from?

New students from Stanford rental housing would be neither a benefit nor a choice - it would just be more students without more funding, and potentially larger than the other two sources combined. Funding would come from the property owner, Stanford. It seems obvious to me why it is a big deal.

3 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 17, 2019 at 7:03 pm

They are just doing what they can to hold on to our tax dollars. Their grip is so, so tight to them. They won't let them go. Hell no, no teachers can be laid off. The gravy train must continue!

Let's find a way to get more children in the school district so we can keep our jobs! Stanford children! Oh no, let's get more money out of them. Use scare tactics, say the schools will be overflowing. Make them pay! But we know enrollment is going down, down,down....and so now we'll change tactics and move in for free, bring our kids and keep our jobs while educating our own children, but on your dime! Brilliant!

5 people like this
Posted by WHAM
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 17, 2019 at 8:10 pm

Agree with cover up culture. The district already support hundreds of non PA tax paying teachers AND administrators out of district kids kids. It's just one layer of the benefit, often they work the system to benefit their own child w/ preferred class placement for their kid and friends. There are even out of district kids of city employees attending PA schools. Someone Explain that benefit, please?!

2 people like this
Posted by Still hurting
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2019 at 8:59 pm

We were not treated well when our child was in middle school and really could have come down hard on the district with lots of evidence (and were retaliated against including our child and practically taunted by district people who had no idea the level of restraint and grace from us), but even I cannot understand the opposition to this. In fact, I would challenge Facebook to do more.

I am grateful for this investment by Facebook, although it feels a little self-serving since it will probably end up being MP and EPA teachers. It's a drop in the bucket for Facebook --

What I really think they should do, since MZ and PC live in Palo Alto, is to set up a fund so that teachers, police, and firefighters and other public safety personnel who do a good job get access to a zero-interest down payment loan so they can buy their own homes in the community eventually. On a two-teacher income (or couple with one a teacher), that's way more than we make and perfectly possible to get into the market if they have the downpayment help. Maybe even the ability to work off the downpayment over summer volunteer teaching -- now THAT would be a real investment in our teachers.

The trouble with a reduced rental situation like this is that teachers will end up basically trapped and unable to move anywhere else if they want to stay. There could be resentments as it will end up a kind of lottery situation where some teachers benefit and others don't. I think it's a good start, but I hope the foundation considers something that really allows other core public servants to really make a life here.

6 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 18, 2019 at 7:45 am

The lowest paid city of Palo Alto firefighter makes $139k, before overtime and benefits. The average tech worker in the Bay area makes $122k. The average PAUSD teacher makes more/day than the average tech worker (teachers don't work a full year). Should the city offer no interest loans and PAUSD housing to tech workers? The City has $455 in unfunded pension liabilities, PAUSD has $252 million. Every public tax dollar collected should be devoted to paying those off, to benefit the public, and the pension recipients. Otherwise property tax owners will be assessed to pay those off.

Like this comment
Posted by Scott
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 18, 2019 at 3:41 pm

This is why Sacramento needs to step in. Local action is solving the housing crisis 120 units at a time.

For only teachers.

Next it will solve it 120 units at a time. For only firefighters.

And it we'll all be long dead, if local action has its way, before anyone who isn't a municipal employee gets any relief. This is untenable. Code and public service alone do not a vibrant community make!

Thankfully, 18 bills were signed last week in Sacramento. At least elected officials somewhere are taking the crisis seriously.

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