San Jose Unified School leaders vote to study sites for affordable teacher housing

At a funding rate just short of $12,000 per student per year, San Jose Unified School District officials say they struggle to pay teachers enough to stay in Silicon Valley, one of the nation’s costliest housing markets.

Now, district leaders are exploring solutions that include building affordable teacher housing on district property — a concept pursued by the district for a little more than a year — however, there is plenty of pushback.

Teachers, parents and concerned residents filled a room inside San Jose High School Monday night for a special San Jose Unified School District board meeting held to discuss four properties under consideration for potential housing for district employees.

After roughly an hour of discussion, the district trustees voted 4-1 to pursue a feasibility study that would provide more details about each proposed site, including cost, size and number of proposed homes per site. The study is expected to cost the district about $150,000 per site, officials said. Board President Kimberly Meek cast the lone dissenting vote.

The four locations include parking lot 9 at the San Jose Unified offices, River Glen School at 1088 Broadway Ave., The Second Start-Pine Hill School at 1325 Bouret Drive and the Metropolitan Education District on Hillsdale Avenue.

In Sept. 2018, the board of education approved a master plan with the intent to begin looking at the San Jose Unified Properties for potential housing opportunities. It began with a list of nine locations before whittling it down to three. The Metropolitan Education District was an addition made by consultants the district hired to analyze the proposed sites.

Two of the most controversial sites initially proposed for teacher housing, Leland High School and Bret Harte Middle School in Almaden Valley, are no longer under consideration after community backlash. Many attendees Monday night expressed relief those locations were dropped.

Several teachers shared housing woes during the meeting Monday. One speaker detailed struggles to live with difficult roommates, while another mentioned that she and her husband are waiting to have children because they worry they can’t afford it in Silicon Valley.

“We want to start a family and buy a home,” said San Jose Unified School District teacher April Avalos. “Yet in San Jose this seems impossible.”

Critics of the plan to build teacher housing on district property expressed a variety of concerns, including how the changes will affect the students at the schools.

One speaker opposed placing housing on the Second Start-Pine Hill School site — a school dedicated to students with autism that only takes a three-week break, which doesn’t provide much time to construct housing on the campus.

Almaden resident Atul Moghe said the proposal to build low-income apartments for teachers on district property is “the most ill-conceived idea” he’s heard.

“Why do you guys not pay your teachers?” he asked the trustees, amid cheers from attendees. “These are the basic fundamental property of any employer-employee relationship.”

Board Vice President Teresa Castellanos said the salaries South Bay teachers receive are set by the state and out of the district’s hands, but the district can help by offering housing to educators at a below-market rate.

“Our teachers are making incredible sacrifices to stay in the profession that they love,” she said. “The housing crisis is so big that we all need to do something … I think we are at the point where we can’t walk away and not do anything.”

Castellanos’ sentiments were echoed by trustees José Magaña, Carla Collins and Brian Wheatley.

But Meek cited concerns about a lack of financial partners and whether the teacher housing projects could get off the ground. “I do worry that we’re going to invest good money and not be able to move forward,” she said. “I’m not saying ‘no,’ I am saying ‘not now.’”

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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