Desperate to Retain Teachers, Silicon Valley School District Plans to Subsidize Housing

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A rendering of the new building in Mountain View for teachers and school staff, which will have studio apartments as well as one and two bedrooms. (Courtesy of Mountain View Whisman School District)

The real estate market in California is so competitive that few of the people needed to anchor communities, like firefighters and school teachers, can afford to live near where they work. That’s especially true in the Bay Area, where a school district in Mountain View recently announced a creative plan to help keep teachers around.

The estimated $56 million plan, approved in late March by the Whisman school district board, involves buying a 144-unit apartment building to be built in the South Bay city for teachers and education staff. The decision comes after the school district reinstated health benefits and raised teacher salaries by as much as 28% over the past five years, but couldn't stop teachers from leaving.

“We’ve had probably four or five resignations this year because they can’t afford to buy a home,” said school district Superintendent Ayindé Rudolph.

The raises also meant some teachers living in low-income housing no longer qualified as low-income and had to move.

“Teachers and other education professionals typically make too much money to qualify for traditional affordable housing,” said Mitch Mankin of Silicon Valley at Home, an affordable housing advocacy group. “But they also make too little to afford market rate housing prices in our crazy Bay Area housing market.”

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The plan is unique in that rather than building teacher housing on school property or housing them in school-owned accommodations, like in Santa Clara County, the district is buying a building from developer Fortbay.

The plan is to offer studios and one- to two-bedroom apartments. While the price of each unit will change based on income, it will all be subsidized by the district. Teachers who make $64,000 — the starting salary for teachers in Mountain View — can expect to pay about $1,500.

Today, Whisman teachers make ends meet by living together or commuting from hours away.

Zoe Sharp and Natalie LaRosa, elementary school teachers in the area, live with three other women who work in education.

“It feels sort of what college was like,” Sharp said.

The Bay Area Housing Crisis

Margaret Abe-Koga, Mountain View's vice mayor, said she believes tech companies also have a responsibility to step in to pay for teacher housing.

“I’m really looking for the tech community to participate because they know we have a housing shortage and a lot of that is caused by their employees,” she said. “I’m hoping that they will contribute and participate because it’s the right thing to do.”

Facebook has already stepped up — in a way. The tech giant subsidizes about 22 homes near its Menlo Park headquarters for teachers.

“I think we all have an obligation to be part of the solution,” said school district Superintendent Rudolph. “We have a moral obligation to make sure that the people in our country who sacrifice making the top dollar to serve our kids, to serve our public, that we should do everything within our power to make sure that they can have a decent wage to live.”

The subsidized housing will be built as part of a larger project at an existing apartment complex. The plan is expected to pass a Mountain View City Council vote scheduled for May.