This Bay Area school district wants to fight an ‘epidemic’ by building teacher housing. The Mountain View Whisman School Board approves 144-unit apartment building for teachers and staff.
With teachers moving away for cheaper housing in what the Mountain View Whisman School District superintendent is calling an “epidemic,” officials here are trying to stem the exodus by giving them the opportunity to live in the same city where they work.
After nearly a year of negotiations between the school district, City of Mountain View and the Los Gatos-based developer FortBay, a plan to provide the district’s teachers and staff with affordable housing has taken a major leap forward.
The Mountain View Whisman school board has unanimously approved a $56 million agreement to lease out a 144-unit subsidized apartment building for its employees for at least the next 55 years.
The move makes Mountain View Whisman School District one of a few Bay Area districts to consider creating its own workforce housing options as a way to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and staff.
“If we want our kids to have the best teachers possible, then we have to find ways to allow them to stay and live in our community,” Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said Tuesday.
The Mountain View Environmental Planning Commission will review the plan at its April 17 meeting and then it’s slated to go before the Mountain View City Council for final approval on May 7.
If the city approves the project in the coming months, the district’s employee housing portion could be completed as soon as the end of 2021 or 2022, according to Rudolph.
The apartment building, which could house at least one in five of the district’s 666 employees, will be a mix of studios, and one- and two-bedroom units.
The district’s building will be a part of the developer’s larger plan to build 716 rental units across three separate buildings at 777 W. Middlefield Road. The other 572 units in the two remaining apartment buildings will be available for market value.
The district’s employee housing portion will allow FortBay to satisfy the city’s affordable housing requirement, where 15 percent must be set aside for middle-income residents and 5 percent set aside for low-income residents, according to a city staff report.
Over the last few years, the school district has increased teacher salaries, expanded benefits and increased professional development opportunities.
But it still hasn’t been enough to retain teachers, Rudolph said.
Kari Bailey, a fifth grade teacher at Theuerkauf Elementary School, recently decided that after six years in the district, she and her family will be moving to Sacramento next year.
With one child and another on the way, Bailey said that affording a home large enough for her family in the Bay Area was just not in the cards.
“It was a really hard decision to make, but that’s what we’ve been left with,” Bailey said Wednesday.
Theuerkauf Elementary School Principal Swati Dagar said Bailey is one of at least three teachers who are resigning this year and moving away due to housing costs.
Dagar hopes the district’s planned housing project will help reverse that trend.
“It means a lot to have this opportunity for staff,” she said. “Not just to be able to better retain staff and talent, but so that teachers will be able to balance their lives better and live and raise a family in the same community as their school.”
As four Silicon Valley companies — Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and Slack — finalize plans to go public, the number of local educators priced out of the housing market by high tech firms will only continue to grow.
“Raising salaries is not going to be enough to keep up with tech workers… so we have to start working on creative solutions,” Rudolph said Tuesday.
First-year teachers in the Mountain View Whisman School District earn an average salary of $64,000 — about 51 percent of Santa Clara County’s median income, according to school district data.
Although the district salaries remain higher than the statewide average, affordable housing options remain out of reach for many educators in the area.
Homes in Mountain View sell for a median price of $1.2 million, according to Zillow. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Mountain View was $2,500 last year, according to the city’s planning department.
“If the only option is to live in Hollister or Santa Cruz because you can’t afford to live any closer, then that’s an epidemic,” Rudolph said.
The school district has not yet decided how the project will be financed, but is considering options including deferred payments, philanthropic donations, a bond measure or bond-like certificates of participation, Rudolph said.
Like Mountain View, others Bay area districts have looked for creative ways to house teachers. The Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City is building 116 low-cost apartments to house its teachers and staff through a $33 million voter-approved bond. And, the Palo Alto Unified School Board recently directed its staff to identify a funding source to build up to 120 units for its employees. Facebook also is looking to help solve the housing crisis and for the past two years has been providing nearly two dozen teachers with low-cost housing near its Menlo Park headquarters.
Although the Mountain View project still has to go through the city’s environmental planning commission and city council, Rudolph said he “doesn’t anticipate hitting any major snag or roadblock.”