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County Supervisor requests developer for teacher housing

After the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education expressed unanimous support for the teacher housing project in January, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian issued a Request for Proposal to secure a developer for the new project of 60 to 120 housing units located at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto.

The request came after the Board confirmed its intent to identify a funding source for a $600,000 contribution to the project at its Jan. 15 meeting. The project involves four other local school districts —  Mountain View Whisman School District, Mountain View Los Altos District, Los Altos School District and Foothill-De Anza Community College District — that are also in the process of securing their $600,000 funds. In total, the project is estimated to cost $36 million.

“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 on Feb. 14.

“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.”

Joe Simitian, Santa Clara County Supervisor

According to a statement from Simitian’s office, the project’s advancement comes at a time when housing prices remain sky-high in the Bay Area, causing a housing crisis for middle-income earners like teachers, who often cannot qualify for affordable housing and can’t afford market-rate prices targeting higher-income earners.

According to Supt. Don Austin, the District expects to receive 12 units of housing.

“The number (of units) is fluid and could grow if we decide to take action,” Austin said in an email. “I would add that 12+ units is barely a start. We are going to explore many options to help our employees enter the local housing market. We use a company called Landed to help staff members with housing down-payments.

However, details such as a selection process to determine which teachers will occupy the housing are not yet finalized.

“The details are still undetermined. At this point, there is no identified mechanism to determine which PAUSD staff members would get the first shot at housing units.”

Don Austin, Palo Alto District Superintendent

Although the upfront cost of the project may vary depending on how many units the District obtains, Austin believes the District could break even on the project over the long term.

“We believe that the project could produce funds back to the District in time,” Austin said. “On the front end, we are essentially getting each unit for about $50,000. That is an incredible price, and our employees would benefit with Below Market Value pricing and great proximity to our school sites.”

Proponents of the teacher housing project state that it enables teachers to get involved in the community, sentiments that Austin echoed.

“I believe strongly that people are more able to participate in activities when the barrier of a long commute is erased,” Austin said. “We are going to look at this issue through every perspective and plan to launch a District-wide staff survey within the next two weeks.”   

Paly math teacher Cynthia Chen agrees with Austin about the benefits of teacher housing.

“I think having teacher housing nearby could help strengthen the school community because the teachers could be more involved with school life,” Chen said. “They could attend after school events like theatre productions and home games/meets. Better yet, living nearby might enable a teacher to be a coach for a sport.”

In addition to the $3 million in funding the five school districts will contribute, the project is expected to secure $3 million from the city of Palo Alto, $6 million from the county’s affordable housing fund and $24 million in loans, according to a statement from Simitian’s office.

Austin added that the District is looking to support its own affordable teacher housing in addition to the joint project with the other school districts.

Austin said, “We are also looking at property near Cubberley as an option for future housing developments for PAUSD staff.”

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