San Jose church tackles teacher housing
Grace Chaverini was able to jumpstart her teaching career in California by saving on housing. She lives in one of 16 rooms at St. John Vianney Parish and teaches at the church's Catholic school. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

Grace Chaverini’s morning commute is a walk right across the street to St. John Vianney’s Catholic school, thanks to the church’s innovative approach to teacher housing.

The Catholic parish transformed its convent into teacher housing for 16 people in an effort to offset living costs for educators. The East San Jose church is looking for renters to fill the remaining 12 rooms, especially teachers or student-teachers that are also involved with a ministry.

For Chaverini, who lives and works in the St. John Vianney community, it’s a perfect match. The recent college graduate, who grew up in Maryland and attended college in Ohio, teaches third grade at the school.

“(Where) else am I going to be able to live in California for so cheap? Especially right after college and just to get my career started,” Chaverini told San José Spotlight.  “When I visited, I felt so welcomed and I could tell it’s just a great community.”

The parish utilized a $4.6 million donation from Shea Family Charities to create housing and renovate its school. Construction began last spring at 4600 Hyland Ave. and the application process for tenants started last month.

St. John Vianney used a $4.6 million donation to renovate its convent into affordable teacher housing. Funds were also used to repair and renovate classrooms. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

While the St. John Vianney project is independent, other houses of worship are taking on a bigger role in tackling the state’s housing crisis in a movement known as Yes in God’s Backyard, or YIGBY. San Jose worked last year to expedite the construction process for places of assembly, including churches, to build affordable housing.

Silicon Valley’s high cost of living has contributed to a teacher shortage, leaving educators unable to buy or even rent in the area’s housing market. More and more teachers are resigning, with 45% of San Jose Unified School District educators citing displacement as their reason for leaving after the 2020-21 school year.

The project is an investment in the St. John Vianney community and East San Jose at large, said Will Rainford, director of mission and evangelization. Tenants would both fulfill the need for educators and form a like-minded community dedicated to service.

“St. John Vianney is a bedrock of the East San Jose community for 70 years,” Rainford told San José Spotlight. “(The housing program) is to both meet the needs of the teachers, but also meet the needs of the diocese.”

Teacher housing at the parish includes a furnished bedroom and private bathroom, with communal living spaces including a kitchen and laundry room. Rent is $1,000 a month including utilities, and candidates have to go through an application process and interview with the church’s pastor.

Each of the 16 affordable residences comes with a bed, dresser and private bathroom. Rent is $1,000 including utilities. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

Teacher retention should be a priority, especially in underserved communities like East San Jose, said community leader Darlene Tenes, who attended St. John Vianney for elementary school.

“Teachers are not paid what their true value is, particularly new teachers. They have a hard time living here and doing what is really a passion for them,” Tenes told San José Spotlight. “We need to really honor them, acknowledge them, give them the tools, the places to live.”

Looking to places of worship for affordable housing is an innovative solution in light of the region’s ongoing housing crisis, Tenes said. Schools districts in East San Jose, including the Alum Rock Union School District, are asking for millions of dollars in bond measures to construct subsidized teacher housing in an effort to retain and hire educators.

“There’s so many underused spaces in the city of San Jose,” Tenes told San José Spotlight. “That should be the biggest priority right now: to use spaces like this and other locations that can be converted into affordable housing.”

Residents share communal spaces like the kitchen and laundry room. Photo by Loan-Anh Pham.

While the teacher housing at St. John Vianney is a step in the right direction, there needs to be a more systemic approach in constructing affordable housing efficiently, said Johnny Khamis, a former San Jose councilmember who is running for Santa Clara County supervisor in District 1. He said the city should look for other innovative ways to address the housing crisis, such as purchasing and converting older apartment buildings. San Jose had more than 13,000 vacant homes in 2020.

“The school districts have hundreds of thousands of teachers,” Khamis told San José Spotlight. “This is 12 (units). That’s fantastic. But let’s look at ways that we can help a lot more people a lot more quickly.”

The project focuses on building spiritual communities and making long-term improvements to education, Rainford told San José Spotlight. It aims to support teachers while also ensuring high-quality education for the school’s increasing number of students.

“We’re trying to build a model that other churches will adopt, which is providing the necessary housing. We’re not making a profit on (rent),” Rainford said. “We’re hoping that this expands the diocese’s ability to serve its parishioners.”

Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

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