FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 15, 2019
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TEACHER HOUSING PROPOSAL MOVES FORWARD
WITH PALO ALTO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
SAN JOSE – The Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Trustees has taken the first steps in supporting the creation of affordable teacher housing in Palo Alto at its Tuesday evening meeting. The Board directed Superintendent Don Austin to identify sources of funding, up to $600,000, which could be used to support the effort already underway by Santa Clara County. While the Board did not vote to take formal action, all five members of the Board expressed support for the potential partnership, and a desire to do even more if possible.
Members of the public on hand to speak in support of the proposal included parents, teachers, and classified staff.
Board member Shounak Dharap commented, "Education is a community pursuit. How do we pursue it without educators in our community?"
The project proposed by Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian aims to bring critically needed workforce housing to teachers in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.
“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,” said Simitian. “It’s never easy to develop workforce housing in such an expensive area; but we have the land, we have some funding available, and we’re finding the partners we need to make this work.”
Last year, Simitian proposed building teacher housing on a County-owned 1.5 acre site at 231 Grant Road in Palo Alto, across the street from the County Courthouse. In response to Simitian’s proposal:
- The Board of Supervisors agreed in January of 2018 to set the site aside for teacher housing pending a more detailed plan;
- Then, in April of 2018, the Board of Supervisors agreed to set aside $6 million to help fund the project (using funds from the Stanford Affordable Housing Fund, which are funds the County specifically designated for the creation of affordable housing near the Stanford University Campus);
- In June of 2018 the Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted to set aside $3 million in developer fees to help fund the project (again, contingent on a formal proposal acceptable to the City);
- In August of 2018, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees voted to identify $600,000 in funding to be used for the project. Two other school districts (Mountain View Whisman School District and Los Altos School District) followed suit and have already directed their administrations to identify funds for the project. Simitian has had preliminary conversations with the Mountain View Los Altos District as well; and,
- County staff is currently preparing an RFP (request for proposals) for a non-profit partner to actua`lly guide the project through the design and development process.
Following the latest meeting on Tuesday evening by the Palo Alto Unified School District Board, Simitian said he was, “Pleased the project had developed so much momentum so quickly.”
School employees, particularly those in the early and middle parts of their careers, are part of what is sometimes referred to as the “missing middle” – they don’t qualify for traditional affordable housing, but they can’t afford market-rate housing prices that are geared towards significantly higher-incomes.
“Great teachers are moving out of the Bay Area due to the housing crisis,” said Sarah Chaffin, a local mother and founder of SupportTeacherHousing.org. “Only roughly one percent of housing since 2015 in Santa Clara County has been built for middle income earners such as teachers according to the Silicon Valley Index. This project could be a game changer in terms of solving the teacher housing crisis, and could inspire others to follow its example.”
Due to the high cost of living, local school districts continuously face teacher shortages and teacher retention issues. It is often too expensive for teachers to live in or near the districts where they teach; and teachers sometimes leave their school districts midway through their careers in order to move to lower cost areas.
Simitian noted that, “No one wins when local teachers have to commute from miles and miles away. It’s hard to attract and retain the best teachers available. Time in the car is time not spent with students or preparing lesson plans. And our teachers become more and more remote from the communities where they teach. This was already a challenge years ago when I was on the School Board, and it’s only gotten worse with every passing year. I don’t think we have to accept this as inevitable. With a little creativity and collaboration we can make progress.”
The 231 Grant Ave site could host a significant number of units – anything from 60 units to 120 – but Simitian notes that all parties will have to be open to change as community members and funding partners weigh in on what is both possible and compatible with the surrounding community.
Community services currently on the site could either be relocated nearby, or remain on the current site on the ground floor.
Simitian, who grew up in Palo Alto as a teacher’s son, said, “I can recall the days when a teacher could own their own home here in Palo Alto, or in a nearby community. I know we can’t turn back the clock, but I’m convinced that there are solutions to this problem.”