Palo Alto school board approves 29-units of subsidized staff housing | January 20, 2023 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 20, 2023

Palo Alto school board approves 29-units of subsidized staff housing

Members sign off on spending $1.45 million to participate in project

by Zoe Morgan

Years in the making, Palo Alto Unified's school board formally approved plans to participate in a subsidized teacher and staff housing project on Tuesday.

The board voted 4-1, with Todd Collins dissenting, to spend $1.45 million to gain access to 29 units of employee housing at 231 Grant Ave. Spearheaded by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, the 110-unit project is being built on county land across the street from the Palo Alto Courthouse near California Avenue and the apartments are being offered to school districts throughout the area.

At a cost of $50,000 per unit, the school district won't be purchasing the apartments themselves but rather buying the right for their employees to access them. School district staff would apply to rent the units and get selected through a lottery system. They would then pay rent to Mercy Housing, one of the nonprofit developers that the county is working with.

The project is an attempt to offer a more affordable housing option to educators, who often have trouble living near the schools where they teach, supporters have said.

"To be able to get access to something like this, for such a reasonable amount of money is a huge benefit, and we are very grateful," board President Jennifer DiBrienza said.

The plan is currently to use the district's general fund to pay the project's $1.45 million price tag. Since the district doesn't own the units, there's a question as to whether bond funds can be used to pay for it, DiBrienza told the Weekly.

Lawyers are still reviewing whether bond funds could be used and if it's determined that this would be an appropriate use, Superintendent Don Austin told the board that he would suggest bringing the issue back for the members to consider.

The fact that the money is coming from the general fund is one reason why Collins voted "no" on the project. For $1.45 million, the district could offer $10,000 signing bonuses to 145 employees in hard-to-fill positions, Collins said.

He also objected to the fact that Palo Alto is getting more units than other districts, despite having what he described as less of a problem recruiting and retaining teachers. According to Collins, Palo Alto was offered a greater number of units largely because the district asked.

"It seems both suboptimal and basically unfair that the district that has the least need is getting the most subsidy," Collins said.

The Los Altos School District and Foothill-De Anza Community College District have each approved paying for 12 units, Simitian's office confirmed. The Mountain View Whisman and Mountain View Los Altos Union High school districts have yet to take a formal vote. Through a partnership with Meta, 32 units are being reserved for employees of south San Mateo County school districts, including Ravenswood City School District.

DiBrienza noted that a survey conducted by Palo Alto Unified showed 292 employees with interest in the project. How many qualify will depend on their overall household income. For a studio apartment, a single person would need to earn at least $70,800, according to a report from district staff. A family of four could earn a maximum income of $235,900. Palo Alto's 29 units are expected to be eight studios, 16 one-bedrooms and five two-bedrooms.

Teachers' union president Teri Baldwin spoke in support of the project at Tuesday's board meeting.

"This is really invaluable for some of our teachers, especially our newer teachers," Baldwin said. "I know having lived close to Palo Alto, it's great to be part of the community, and a lot of teachers can't do that because they have to travel so far away."

Email Staff Writer Zoe Morgan at [email protected]


Posted by Julie Lythcott-Haims
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 18, 2023 at 10:26 am

Julie Lythcott-Haims is a registered user.

Kudos to the PAUSD School Board. Every bit helps!

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2023 at 11:06 am

Bystander is a registered user.

Two points.

What happens if a teacher living there decides to change jobs, does that teacher then have to move?

There is no mention of how much parking is attached to these units. Are the teachers expected to ride bikes or use public transport to get to their schools? And as for partners, are they expected to do the same?

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2023 at 6:25 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

I think Bystander has a good question. My sister has been squatting on a voucher for decades. Under SSI rules (which she qualifies for) gainful employment would take away her money AND housing. So she just hasn't worked in forever because it's so complicated to give up income and housing because she CAN work a minimum wage job.

Could these PA units also be squatted on after the teacher is no longer a teacher? If they are HUD vouchers, the answer is yet. HUD rules that if you have income that would disqualify you, or if you were evicted "for cause", you would have to move.

So I have to think these are LIHTC apartments, and NOT subsidized by HUD. If they are LIHTC the developer is getting hefty tax credits for building and Mercy will manage them. Under LIHTC there are "units" and "low income units". LIHTC is an arm of HUD, but HUD assigns its authority to the Tax Credit agency in each state. I do not believe any city or county bond can be used to buy 29 lottery tickets. I believe it's the developer who has to earmark the 29 units for PAUSD. The developer is ALREADY GETTING PAID. The only reponsibility for PAUSD would be to certify the eligibility of the "lottery winners". I believe they woulld have to be regular "LIHTC UNITS" because the teachers are not under the low income category. PAUSD would have to flex some pretty big muscles to arm wrestle the California Tax agency to change its rules. I believe all PAUSD is doing is bypassing the wait list for 29 units, example shown in the link Web Link It's just a motion carried out by the developer that can't be bought. It sounds like an illegal shell game. POOF there goes 1.5 million. Who collected it and under what authority? HUD would be asking that question. Explore the entire CTCAC website. Nowhere does it mention pre-purchasing lottery tickets. I will be the first to call CTCAC myself to report this activity.

Posted by felix
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2023 at 6:35 am

felix is a registered user.

As I remember, Palo Alto has more apartments than other Districts because the City is the only one one that helped fund the project with a few million from its affordable housing fund.
This is a wise decision by the District.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2023 at 8:33 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

These units might be nice for young, single teachers straight out of college. All the teachers I know own their own home. And PAUSD teachers make good money, up to over $140K, and even more with certain degrees. If the whole idea is live where you work, most people don't live and work in the same city. Would this be any different than renting any other apt. in Palo Alto? Homes are expensive to own or rent, but apartments are a different ballgame.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 19, 2023 at 10:10 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Julie Lythcott-Haims, maybe you could explain how the city tracks employment and income status for the various classes of affordable and subsidized housing?

What happens to people when they leave their teaching jobs? Are they evicted?

What happens to people in market-rate housing when their income changes drastically like it often does in Silicon Valley due to layoffs and IPOs?

Thanks in advance.

Posted by More info
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 19, 2023 at 10:29 am

More info is a registered user.

I teach at one of the high schools and am surprised at Jennifer's comment that all the teachers she knows own their own home - how do you know? It's ridiculous to assume that because someone is making 140k (which most of us are NOT - you have to teach in PAUSD 25 years and get 90 units of college credit (after your degrees) to make it to 139k. A new teacher to PAUSD, straight out of student teaching (unpaid full-time work for one semester or a full year) will be making 71k. That is not a living wage to live in Palo Alto, let alone most of the Bay Area.

Posted by eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:29 am

eileen is a registered user.

I was under the impression that these units are available for ANY teacher working in Santa Clara County. That is a much wider range than PAUSD. It is helpful for teachers in general but I also wonder what happens when they stop teaching in the county. Can someone answer this question?

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:34 am

S. Underwood is a registered user.

PAUSD teachers salaries are pretty inline with median Palo Alto income. When you factor in work hours, benefits, pension they are doing quite okay.

I don't begrudge that one ounce. But there's not a problem to solve here. One proof is quite simple: We have no problem filling positions. [Don't tell me about how you can point to certain low-wage functions (carefully boxed out by the union) and then says, "Hey, See We Can't Hire No Wun for $20 an hour!" Churchill in particular needs a serious haircut, either in positions, salaries, or both.

We have people in need of real help. For all their talk about social justice, our power structures just keep helping themselves.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2023 at 4:38 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

I know they own their own home because they happen to be family/friends of mine, not random strangers. If $71K isn't a living wage to live in Palo Alto or most of the Bay Area, find a less expensive place to live. Where your wages will compensate the cost of living in your city or state. It really is that simple.

Posted by toransu
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 19, 2023 at 11:19 pm

toransu is a registered user.

Jennifer, you know we still need teachers in our community, right? "Just go live in Modesto and commute 4 hours a day" isn't a real answer, and you know that. I guarantee if we only employed your mythical 140k-salaried teachers, you'd be complaining that we pay teachers too much lmao

Posted by Julian
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2023 at 5:29 pm

Julian is a registered user.

Eileen, PAUSD has reserved 29 units for themselves. Other districts have the option of reserving one of the 100+ units. I'm writing a story for the Palo Alto High School newspaper, The Campanile, on the subject.

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