Due to a shortage of affordable housing in the Bay Area, teachers in the Palo Alto Unified School District and other regional districts endure long commutes every day in order to get to and from work. Now, a donation from Facebook may enable regional teachers to obtain affordable housing.
Facebook has pledged to donate $25 million to help fund a project in Palo Alto that would build affordable housing for teachers, according to Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian in an announcement made Thursday, Oct. 17. According to Facebook’s vice president for real estate, John Tenanes, Facebook’s donation conveys the company’s commitment towards helping solve the regional teacher housing crisis.
“We’re excited to deepen our commitment to housing for people across the economic spectrum,” Tenanes said in an 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.”
According to PAUSD Superintendent Don Austin, Facebook’s donation was necessary for the project to continue.
“It is my understanding that the financing was essential for the project to proceed,” Austin said. “The donation allows teachers from East Palo Alto and San Mateo to now join with the five original members of the arrangement, including PAUSD.”
Although the donation from Facebook permits the teacher housing project to increase the number of housing units that can be built, it will not increase the number of housing units allocated to PAUSD staff, according to Austin.
“I have read that the project has grown to around 100 units, and I have advocated more than the twelve spots we were allotted when the concept was formed,” Austin said. “(The donation) does not lower our contribution amount of $600,000 or increase the roughly twelve units set aside for our staff.”
Originally contracted to only provide housing to five school districts — Palo Alto Unified, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View Los Altos, Los Altos and Foothill-De Anza Community College — that number has since expanded to include districts in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. With Facebook’s donation, teachers in nine districts, including the original five, will have access to the housing.
The housing is set to be developed on 231 Grant Ave in a 1.5 acre lot in Palo Alto, which is currently occupied by a parking lot and the Santa Clara Office of the Public Defender.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian first proposed this project in January 2018 in response to the Bay Area teacher housing crisis. In August 2019, the Santa Clara County Supervisors unanimously approved the project with a vote of 5-0, giving the project over to the Mercy Housing and Abode Communities — organizations focused on providing affordable housing — for design and development.
According to Teri Baldwin, president of the Palo Alto Educators Association, the teacher housing crisis stems from unaffordable housing prices due to insufficient salaries.
“Not only are house prices unattainable, but rents are outrageously high, teachers are part of the ‘missing middle’ — our salaries are too high to qualify for low-income housing, and we don’t make enough to afford market-rate rents,” Baldwin said. “Many teachers who rent live far from Palo Alto and have very long commutes, meaning they can’t stay after school for very long because they will be stuck in traffic for hours.”
However, according to Baldwin, this crisis not only pertains to Palo Alto and the Bay Area, but also to the entire state.
“Over the past seven years, studies have found that over 40,000 teachers left the state, and while it isn’t clear that housing costs was the only factor, many have stated it is a major one,” Baldwin said. “This has exacerbated the state’s teacher shortage.”
In an effort to keep teachers in Palo Alto, PAUSD is seeking different avenues to solve the lack of affordable housing in their own district. Currently, the district is looking into developing housing on 525 San Antonio Avenue.
“We are exploring our own project exclusively for PAUSD staff at…a property adjacent to Cubberley that is owned by PAUSD,” said Austin. “Housing is a complex issue and needs all of our best thinking. The process is not fast and would realistically take about five years for anything to be built on either property. Until then, we continue to do our research and learn as we go.”