Photo courtesy of Jefferson Union High School District
Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City opened 705 Serramonte in May 2022 with 122 apartments for teachers and other staff.

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Next month, 122 teachers and other employees in the Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City will learn if they won a drawing that will allow them to move into a new housing project with below-market rents that their district is building. Nicole Ann Polo hopes to be one of them.

A math teacher at her alma mater, Westmoor High, Polo has been living with her parents, which makes her better off, she said, than colleagues who moonlight delivering DoorDash or commute 90 minutes each way from the East Bay. But her grandparents also have moved in, and she needs a place of her own — impossible to find when, even as a fifth-year teacher and a department head, she makes in the upper $50,000s.

The rents that she and the other tenants will pay — an average of $1,462 for a one-bedroom apartment, $1,896 for two bedrooms and $2,413 for three — while not cheap in some locales — will be about 60% of market rates in the area. So, lottery willing, Polo won’t have to switch to a better-paying district or move to more affordable Poway in San Diego County, where other relatives live.

“I’m really looking forward to staying with a district that means so much to me,” she said.

When the U-shaped three- and four-story 705 Serramonte apartment complex opens in mid-May, with a gym, two outdoor play areas, a community room, and lounges on each floor, Jefferson Union will join an exclusive list. Los Angeles Unified and Santa Clara Unified are the only other K-12 districts in the state with subsidized housing for staff. And it’s been 20 years since Santa Clara pioneered the concept with its 70-unit Casa del Maestro, which, by most metrics — data on teacher retention and waiting lists for a unit — has been a success.

But the pipeline of projects is growing now, particularly in the Bay Area, where many teachers are struggling to pay for housing. Construction has begun on employee housing in the Mountain View Whisman district in Mountain View and Jefferson Elementary district in Daly City. Santa Clara County supervisors have given the green light to start construction later this year on housing for several districts on county property in Palo Alto. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, is chipping in a quarter of the $103 million cost of that project.

Five other California districts earmarked employee housing in school bonds that voters passed in the last three years. Forty-six districts are in various states of moving forward with a staff housing project, according to a 150-page report, commissioned by the California School Boards Association, that was released last week. “Education Workforce Housing in California: Developing the 21st Century Campus” compiled information for the first time on every school property in California and rated them based on teachers’ and other school employees’ need for housing assistance and the sites’ suitability for providing it.

The report’s conclusion: Half of the 151,500 acres owned by California school districts are potentially developable; those sites are located on 7,068 properties; 61% are located where entry-level teachers face challenges affording housing. And 1 in 5 properties are particularly suited for housing, after weighing employee income and the sites’ zoning and other assets.

“Districts own a lot of land, and it takes only a small percentage to do something,” said David Garcia, policy director for the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California Berkeley, a co-author of the report. “Employee housing isn’t a panacea, but it has potential.”

The report was a collaborative effort of UCLA’s cityLAB, the Terner Center, and the Center for Cities + Schools, also at UC Berkeley. Along with a database on potential housing, the report examines strategies for development and includes a 30-page, step-by-step, how-to handbook.

“We’re trying to provide more information that sparks ideas across the state and gives people a road map to do a project that might not have occurred to them,” said Troy Flint, chief information officer for the school boards association.

Alan Katz, president of the Brookwood Group, who is advising several districts planning teacher housing, said, “There’s no question in my mind that there’s a terrific interest now by a myriad of school districts. With the research in the report, you’re going to see administrators and school boards starting in Northern California and probably throughout the state to consider projects.”

Big need for housing assistance

The data cited in the report underscore the need. Nationally, 35% of teachers are considered rent-burdened, defined as paying more than 30% of their income as rent, and the problem is pronounced in California, especially among Black and Latino teachers, according to the report.

A study in 2016 by the real estate firm Redfin found that in the Bay Area, only 1.2% of homes on the market in Alameda County were affordable for the average teacher; in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, it was less than 1%. Rising reprices suggest it’s only gotten worse since then.

According to data in the report, first- or second-year teachers make up 1 out of 8 teachers statewide, with salaries ranging from $37,000 to $84,476. Of those teachers, nearly half earn less than 80% of the area median income — a measure that qualifies them as “low income” and eligible for federal housing assistance. Location matters: $50,000 in the Central Valley might exceed low-income, while $50,000 definitely would not in the Bay Area.

High rents and high-priced homes are compounding staff shortages and high turnover rates in high-cost counties, Flint and others said. Districts like Jefferson Union have become revolving doors as new teachers tire from long commutes and head to wealthier districts, said Tina Van Raaphorst, Jefferson Union’s associate superintendent of business services.

“California’s deepening housing crisis threatens the quality of K-12 education,” the authors of the California School Boards Association report wrote. “Public school employees — especially teachers — struggle to live in the communities where they work, and school districts face growing challenges in recruiting and retaining staff, creating instability that exacerbates opportunity and achievement gaps.”

The California Department of Education projects that enrollment will decline in two-thirds of districts, and some could face financial instability from a loss of state revenue. That decline, which won’t be reversed in the short or medium term, said Flint, also creates an opportunity: converting underutilized properties to school housing can give schools a leg up on recruiting classified staff and teachers.

Jeff Vincent, co-founder and director of the Center for Cities + Schools, a co-author of the report, agreed. “There are schools with maintenance problems that may have been closed or are worn out.” One option is to mothball a school; another is workforce housing, he said.

Building on school district land alone can save as much as 20% of a project’s cost, Vincent said.  But building affordable housing is complicated — a point the report reiterated — and requires thinking differently.

“It hasn’t been the mindset of school boards to think about development for other than classrooms,” Vincent said.

Financing is tricky, and piecing together a package can require a half-dozen sources; there will be regulatory and zoning hurdles at the state and local levels. And selecting a site will require patience and, the report emphasizes, transparency. Boards must make compelling arguments and collaborate from the start with neighbors concerned about traffic and losing open space for dogs and soccer.

A confluence of factors that school districts have to navigate — local zoning, construction costs during a labor shortage, complexities of tax credits and multiple site reviews — “make it incredibly difficult in the best of circumstances to build affordable housing,” said Garcia. While other types of school construction customarily take three to five years to complete, the report advises districts to add two years to the timeline for staff housing projects.

Throughout that time, Van Raaphorst said, “it’s really important to have strong board members who are willing to be hands-on, dedicated and willing to go to bat for the project.”

Removing some of the obstacles

Last week, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, D-Santa Monica, introduced legislation intended to remove some of the big hurdles to developing housing. Adopting some of the recommendations in the CSBA report, Assembly Bill 2295 would eliminate the need for approval of plans by the Division of the State Architect, whose expertise is schools, not housing. And it would establish the right of districts to build housing up to three stories on a school property, assuming projects meet basic criteria. This wouldn’t eliminate local zoning review, but it could thwart not-in-my-backyard opposition. Dana Cuff, director of UCLA’s cityLAB, helped draft the bill.

“Teachers’ salaries are not keeping up with the rising cost of living in California. Coupled with our mounting housing crisis, school districts are hemorrhaging good teachers and quality staff members faster than we can recruit them,” Bloom said in a statement.

Jefferson Union didn’t face zoning hassles or community resistance, enabling it to move from voter funding to completion in four years. The project, near Interstate 280, is on a rundown property that houses the district office in a former high school. The district had designed the site for commercial use or housing years ago. In 2018, voters approved a $33 million bond as a taxpayer subsidy to underwrite about 45% of the $75 million project, covering the rest with loans secured by rents from the apartments. 705 Serramonte may be the first phase of a commercial and residential neighborhood, perhaps including more employee housing, that would generate revenue for the district. At least that’s the vision.

705 Serramonte was financed without federal low-income housing tax credits, the primary method of subsidizing affordable housing nationwide. With the passage of California’s Teacher Housing Act of 2016, authorizing their use by school districts, they’ll be integral to most projects, Garcia said. The tax credits are competitive and carry restrictions: Targeted to employees earning less than 80% of an area’s median income, the limit is why teachers no longer qualify to live in Los Angeles Unified’s employee housing complexes and why Jefferson Union didn’t pursue them.

But the report found the 80% limit would cover many lower-paid teachers in half the districts with developable school properties. Nearly two-thirds of those districts are in urban areas, where median salaries are high. And, Garcia said, the federal tax credits could be packaged with state programs that permit incomes above the 80% threshold.

While Jefferson Union is prioritizing employees under 80% of area median income, it will accept employees earning up to 120%. It is allocating 60% of the units to teachers and 40% to classified staff. 705 Serramonte will serve about a quarter of the district’s 500 staff, Van Raaphorst said.

Nicole Ann Polo

The district didn’t heavily market 705 Serramonte, but Polo said that among her peers, teachers in their 20s and 30s, 90% are interested in it. With the most English learners in the district, Westmoor High is a special place, she said, where immigrant students from are Jordan, China, Brazil, the Philippines and El Salvador.

She and her colleagues face the same dilemma: “It’s expensive to stay but too good of a community to leave,” she said.

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  1. Nancy Lacsamana 9 months ago9 months ago

    I am a taxpayer and a parent of a Jefferson Union High School District graduate. The Serramonte Del Rey project teacher housing was approved by taxpayers in 6/2018 for 80 housing units and they have now built 120. The bond was $33m. Do you really believe that those 120 units will pay the 55% principal/bond remaining on a forecasted (bond financial statement 6/30/2020) $75m.? Really? This district on the bond measure said the … Read More

    I am a taxpayer and a parent of a Jefferson Union High School District graduate. The Serramonte Del Rey project teacher housing was approved by taxpayers in 6/2018 for 80 housing units and they have now built 120. The bond was $33m. Do you really believe that those 120 units will pay the 55% principal/bond remaining on a forecasted (bond financial statement 6/30/2020) $75m.? Really?

    This district on the bond measure said the cost would only be $54m. And the lies then began. So the district in 2020 started working with Brookwood development on the other 2O acres of the same property of administration and with community entities leasing (7 day active sports program gym, childcare, martial arts) in full operation (not dormant as stated) . They also told a 20-year community garden group thru would bulldoze this 2 acres on the outskirts. The Garden Harassment with 24 hour security, chain linked fencing, removal of garden equipment and signs, and a $70k security camera pointed at the garden. This is the only community garden in Daly City.

    Communication has been poor at best and public outrage in full swing. Over 5,400 people have signed a save the garden petition. Native American Elders are now involved as this is a Native garden with history. Their outreach was very little.

    What has the district now walked thru the first phase of planning- adjacent to the teacher housing?
    1400 units of market rate housing! 3 – 14 story towers! Only 10% affordable!

    Oh – and the affordability threshold offered by the district on the new adjacent property at 10%. This is privatizing public land and should be a minimum of 30%.

    Trust me – the community is livid and the development has already been stalled. So much for transparency in the community as there has been very little. The district communication has been primarily to employees, current student families and housing advocates trolling local planning and city council meetings.

    As a taxpayer, this new development after the district got approval for the teacher housing has soured the community’s view of this district. We don’t need board members and the district spending time on finding ways to be in the market rate housing development to pay salaries. I am appalled at the rhetoric teachers are saying at CC meetings to those of us who say the district is misleading teachers with promises of pay increases 5-10 years from now. Please know that there is more to this subject than 80 voter-approved housing units for the district.

  2. SD Parent 9 months ago9 months ago

    Unfortunately, the new CSBA report is so full of partial or selective "data" such that it's challenging to parse the validity of their claims. For example, the report • uses “headlines” about teacher housing affordability in exclusively the Bay Area to extrapolate teacher housing issues across the state. • equates current teacher turnover with pay and housing costs with no comparison with historical data (e.g. that teacher turnover has been a chronic issue, previously associating that with … Read More

    Unfortunately, the new CSBA report is so full of partial or selective “data” such that it’s challenging to parse the validity of their claims. For example, the report
    • uses “headlines” about teacher housing affordability in exclusively the Bay Area to extrapolate teacher housing issues across the state.
    • equates current teacher turnover with pay and housing costs with no comparison with historical data (e.g. that teacher turnover has been a chronic issue, previously associating that with poor teacher support programs for beginning teachers)
    • uses entry-level pay for teachers and compares that to median pay for all others.
    • states that teachers with less than 6 years of experience have 20% lower salaries than other college graduates, but neglects the fact that with 180 instructional days plus some prep days, teachers also spend about 26% fewer days working than the 250-day work schedule for the other college graduates.
    • suggests that housing could be built on school properties that are actively used as schools, including in parking lots, with no recognition about how the lack of parking would impact recruitment and retention of employees for that school.
    • uses 2014 data (essentially the zenith of enrollment in teacher preparation programs) as a standard for the teacher shortage and uses declines in the numbers of teachers between 2016/17 and 2017/18 as its metric to infer that teacher pay is the driving force behind these without acknowledging other major factors (e.g. that the last-in-first-out lay-offs that occurred during the Recession discouraged anyone from entering the teaching profession since there was no job security, or that many experienced teachers received early-retirement incentives to balance budgets, leaving vacancies in hard-to-replace categories, such as those credentialed in STEM fields or Special Education).

    The list goes on but suffice to say that it seems like this report was created as both a guide to help school districts create workforce housing and “statistics” for LEAs to use to justify using their land—including properties where schools are currently operating—to do this. I do credit the authors for encouraging LEAs to engage the public early in the process to build trust rather than create a backroom district plan to present to the public. (I hope San Diego Unified reads that carefully, as it always does the latter and has the audacity to call it stakeholder engagement.)

    I don’t deny that housing costs in some areas of California (especially the Bay Area) make housing unaffordable for the majority who work in school districts. I would venture that the majority of workers in many professions are also similarly impacted (yet another statistic not presented in the CSBA report).

    The question is, does the fact that LEAs own land mean that this land should be used for workforce housing? What about school capacity needs that will also increase as the state expands the high-density, infill housing? What about other infrastructure needs for children, such as facilities for the expansion of childcare and Universal Pre-K or park space for the children who will live in the new high-density infill housing?

  3. Chris 9 months ago9 months ago

    In Santa Clara County it takes an income of $300,000.00 to buy a single family house. Even the principals don’t make enough to pay half of that. The one bedroom apartments rent for around $2,500 in south San Jose. And then I have to hear people whine that teacher raises of 3% is above inflation. Don’t comment unless you live in the Bay Area. You aren’t even close to buying a house until you … Read More

    In Santa Clara County it takes an income of $300,000.00 to buy a single family house. Even the principals don’t make enough to pay half of that. The one bedroom apartments rent for around $2,500 in south San Jose. And then I have to hear people whine that teacher raises of 3% is above inflation. Don’t comment unless you live in the Bay Area. You aren’t even close to buying a house until you are at year 20 with a masters degree-$100,000.00 and your spouse makes $200,000.00. Plus all the new teachers have college loans/start around $45k and you think 3% COLA is enough?

    If you want to be a teacher, move out of California! Or just don’t! I would urge all people to not become teachers period.

  4. Rob Wood 9 months ago9 months ago

    This is the factory employee housing projects in the early 20th century. Are we progressing or regressing?

  5. Todd Maddison 10 months ago10 months ago

    So, Assemblymember Richard Bloom thinks “Teachers’ salaries are not keeping up with the rising cost of living in California.” Perhaps Mr. Bloom should look at some actual data? We’ll use the actual pay records obtained from CA’s K-12 school districts for that, as published by Transparent California. If we sample this data for specific cohorts of employees working for various districts, we generally see pay rates rising at rates anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times the rate of … Read More

    So, Assemblymember Richard Bloom thinks “Teachers’ salaries are not keeping up with the rising cost of living in California.”

    Perhaps Mr. Bloom should look at some actual data?

    We’ll use the actual pay records obtained from CA’s K-12 school districts for that, as published by Transparent California.

    If we sample this data for specific cohorts of employees working for various districts, we generally see pay rates rising at rates anywhere from 1.5 to 3 times the rate of inflation.

    What was that about “not keeping up with the rising cost of living”?

    And of course the median total compensation for a CA teacher in 2020 was $120,051.

    Certainly starting teachers make less, as do starting employees in any career.

    Perhaps someone should talk to the teachers unions about that, given the low starting pay is that way as a result of their own salary schedules? If we look at those schedules, we typically see annual raises around 3% to 3.5% per year. Until the final step or two, when we see raises at close to twice that.

    In my district, Oceanside Unified, by simply cutting the percentage of that final bump back to the normal average throughout the rest of the schedule they would still give senior teachers the largest dollar raise in their career, while also freeing up enough money to give starting teachers a raise of several thousand dollars.

    But then that would benefit starting teachers making under $50,000/year and slow the growth of pay for those making six figure total compensation.

    I’m sure our unions would not want to do that, right?

    Better to keep starting pay low, to allow articles like this to promote the myth of the poor underpaid teacher and generate sympathy for massive tax-funded boondoggles.

    Like getting a school district incapable of managing its own finances into the business of managing construction and property management.

    What could go wrong, right?

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 10 months ago10 months ago

      Todd, I don't know about tax-funded boondoggles. Next time you are in the Bay Area, visit Santa Clara Unified's Casa del Maestro, which looks like a wonderful place to live and appears to be well-managed. But you raise a valid issue the article didn't mention. District-built housing targets non-operating money to beginning teachers, by leveraging the value of land, tax credits and taxpayer bonds, in ways that across-the-board salary raises cannot do efficiently (a generous … Read More

      Todd, I don’t know about tax-funded boondoggles. Next time you are in the Bay Area, visit Santa Clara Unified’s Casa del Maestro, which looks like a wonderful place to live and appears to be well-managed. But you raise a valid issue the article didn’t mention. District-built housing targets non-operating money to beginning teachers, by leveraging the value of land, tax credits and taxpayer bonds, in ways that across-the-board salary raises cannot do efficiently (a generous 10% pay raise produces $10,000 for a $100,000 veteran teacher and $5,000 for a beginning teacher earning $50,000). With district-subsidized housing, districts will be more competitive in hiring and, with generally 5-year leases, retaining teachers at least for several years.

      The goal of the teacher housing going up in Mountain View-Whisman School District is to enable a teacher to save enough for a down payment on a home over time. But a teacher in a single-income household would still have difficulty buying a place in many parts of California.

      • Todd Maddison 10 months ago10 months ago

        You're right about the "boondoggle" aspect of this, in that I have not looked at the financials on any of these proposals and have no idea whether the expense is reasonable for the expected result. I could be wrong, but I think the examples where similar government projects have ended up costing significantly more than expected while providing significantly less benefit than originally projected are legion. Hence I think any taxpayer would have … Read More

        You’re right about the “boondoggle” aspect of this, in that I have not looked at the financials on any of these proposals and have no idea whether the expense is reasonable for the expected result.

        I could be wrong, but I think the examples where similar government projects have ended up costing significantly more than expected while providing significantly less benefit than originally projected are legion.

        Hence I think any taxpayer would have a reasonable suspicion that these projects will follow the same pattern.

        When you say “district subsidized housing districts will be more competitive in hiring”, do we have any data indicating they are not competitive as is?

        In Oceanside, their last personnel commission report showed them receiving about 5 fully-qualified applicants (meaning they passed all their tests and criteria) per job opening.

        In private industry, if a hiring manager was handed 5 fully-qualified applicants to interview for every opening they had, they would consider themselves in nirvana.

        Oceanside also has no retention problem, with voluntary turnover a fraction of the normal rate in private industry.

        Do we have any statewide data indicating we have a problem with attracting or retaining education employees? From what I can see in the actual data I’ve looked at, that is likely a myth as well.

  6. Jay 10 months ago10 months ago

    Government subsidized housing will also create unintended consequences. If teachers are not paid a wage that allows them to live within the community of their school district to best support their students, then the government should strongly consider a refundable renter’s credit up to a certain amount. This way wealthy families are not unintentionally supported, but those families who would benefit would qualify. This number is not researched-based, but maybe a $6,000 ($500 per month) … Read More

    Government subsidized housing will also create unintended consequences. If teachers are not paid a wage that allows them to live within the community of their school district to best support their students, then the government should strongly consider a refundable renter’s credit up to a certain amount. This way wealthy families are not unintentionally supported, but those families who would benefit would qualify. This number is not researched-based, but maybe a $6,000 ($500 per month) refundable tax credit for AGI’s less than $150,000 with a gradual phaseout at $200,000. I know the numbers seem high, but so is rent in San Francisco.

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 10 months ago10 months ago

      "If teachers are not paid a wage that allows them to live within the community of their school district to best support their students, ..." Do we have data showing teachers are unable to do that, to any great extent? Median total pay of a full-time teacher in 2020 statewide was $92,236. I don't have any data showing median home prices in every community (or the ability to tie that to school districts) but I suspect in … Read More

      “If teachers are not paid a wage that allows them to live within the community of their school district to best support their students, …”

      Do we have data showing teachers are unable to do that, to any great extent?

      Median total pay of a full-time teacher in 2020 statewide was $92,236. I don’t have any data showing median home prices in every community (or the ability to tie that to school districts) but I suspect in the vast majority of communities in our state that would be sufficient.

      Does that mean starting teachers make enough to buy a house? Probably not, but what industry are you aware of where people just starting out can immediately buy a house? Again, no hard data there, but having managed lots of large groups of employees, I can tell you typically someone starting out their career may have to work five years or more to get to a pay level where they can buy a house. I would think most people would consider someone being able to buy a house in their first year of their career to be a somewhat unreasonable expectation.

  7. Adam Hampton 10 months ago10 months ago

    That these teacher camps are being built speaks to society’s value of teachers. Teaching should remain the middle-class occupation it has been historically. Adequate funding should make building special concentrated housing for teachers a non-starter. This is ridiculous and we should be ashamed. “Salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living” is an understatement. These fiscal conditions have existed for years prior to the recent bout of inflation.

    Replies

    • Todd Maddison 10 months ago10 months ago

      "Salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living” is an understatement. " It's also not true. If you examine actual pay records from any district you will find that the median increase in teacher wages over time likely exceeds inflation in almost all cases, if not all. I have not looked at the statistics in all CA districts, but have looked at this in many specific districts and routinely find the rate of increase … Read More

      “Salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living” is an understatement. ”

      It’s also not true. If you examine actual pay records from any district you will find that the median increase in teacher wages over time likely exceeds inflation in almost all cases, if not all.

      I have not looked at the statistics in all CA districts, but have looked at this in many specific districts and routinely find the rate of increase to be 1.5 to 3 times the rate of inflation.