San Jose State University might turn into an unexpected savior in the ongoing exodus of teachers from Santa Clara County.
The university envisions creating public-private partnerships with K-12 school districts and community colleges to help build affordable teacher housing. SJSU leaders want schools to consider using some of their excess land for homes so teachers can live where they work. School districts have traditionally sold off property to private developers and used the cash for administrative or curriculum funding.
A number of school districts have explored the idea of funding subsidized teacher housing through bond measures. Others like the San Jose Unified Board of Education voted in 2019 to look at four locations to construct teacher housing — a parking lot at the San Jose Unified District offices, River Glen School at 1088 Broadway Ave., the Second Start-Pine Hill School at 1325 Bouret Drive and a possible site at the Metropolitan Education District on Hillsdale Avenue. The county’s largest school district recognized the dilemma five years ago, but the idea stalled due to the pandemic and teacher shortages have worsened.
Part of the problem lies in the complexity of designing and building the housing. Housing developments are a complicated process, and school districts are educators — not developers. They need a third party to help navigate convoluted development requirements and guide the process from breaking ground to housing tenants.
SJSU could be that solution. The university is in the process of converting an unused downtown state facility, the Alquist building, into upward of 1,200 apartments for its faculty, staff and graduate students, plus teachers and employees from various school districts. Once completed, a template will be created.
Charlie Faas, chief financial officer for San Jose State University, said it’s a model that could be replicated at other locations.
School districts and community colleges would have a blueprint and a university willing to assist in creating inroads to building affordable housing. A couple of lots is a small ask when many of the county’s community colleges have hundreds of acres — DeAnza, Foothill and West Valley colleges each have more than 100 acres. The county has 31 public K-12 school districts, and some of those campuses have space to construct teacher housing as well.
Every district at every level of education is screaming for help as schools scramble to fill dozens of empty positions. The issue can no longer be ignored. Finding a solution to the lack of affordable teacher housing is not a maybe. It’s not a wait and see for the real estate market to soften. It’s a must-get-it-done-now requirement.
The irony is that the very place where we educate our youth and young adults is where the land sits. Taking a sliver of that acreage and building homes for teachers is not new. The concept already exists in higher education where faculty live in housing next to students. The housing is affordable and educators have a quality life, which makes them happier at home and better at their job. They are no longer stuck in long commutes. The solution is obvious, even though it won’t happen overnight.
Without this model, educators will continue to leave the region and future generations of children will fall behind. Fewer teachers mean larger classrooms and limited attention given to each student. The pandemic already pushed students backward in the English and math, particularly in low-income and vulnerable neighborhoods. We need to turn that around and part of that solution is bringing teachers back into the Bay Area. That starts with affordable housing on a teacher’s salary.