UPDATE: Santa Clara County swaps land to build teacher housing
The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors recently learned about the high demand for the county's Assisted Outpatient Treatment program, also known as Laura's Law. File photo.

    Santa Clara County teachers could have a chance to live where they work as county officials take the first step in creating new housing for educators.

    The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted today without discussion to secure approximately five acres at 10333 N. Wolfe Road in Cupertino to construct affordable housing for educators. The land is the first step in a potential project that would use a portion of the land to house teachers and education staff from local school districts. The project aims to reduce the financial struggles teachers face in finding affordable housing in Silicon Valley.

    County Supervisor Joe Simitian said more efforts need to focus on the “missing middle,” residents, like teachers, that don’t qualify for subsidized housing and are barely scraping by. A 2022 study shows the San Jose metro area, which includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, has the worst housing shortage among major U.S. cities.

    “A lot of these (school) districts pay what we used to think of as a pretty fair middle-class wage, but given our housing costs in the valley, it is just not doable for people,” Simitian told San José Spotlight before the meeting. “We’re much better off when people who teach and work in our schools are part of the fabric of the community.”

    The average salary for a beginner teacher at a California high school district in 2020-21 was approximately $52,141, according to the California Department of Education. According to salary.com, the average public school teacher in San Jose makes $70,504.

    Officials will exchange a roughly 1.5-acre county-owned parcel at 10591 N. De Anza Blvd. for the land, currently owned by Apple under Wolfe Properties, LLC, according to a spokesperson from Simitian’s office. County officials can now start planning for the teacher housing, as well as allocating other affordable housing projects for the remaining acres.

    Kim McCarthy, president of the Campbell High School Teachers Association, said long commutes prevent educators, especially those with families, from participating fully in their school communities. McCarthy, a Campbell Union High School District history teacher, said her drive to work from Santa Cruz takes 45 minutes each way.

    “It makes it very difficult for me to go home, have dinner, spend time with my family and then return to school to watch my students in music productions or theater plays and athletic games,” McCarthy told San José Spotlight.

    California’s expensive housing market has resulted in an exodus of teachers and students, contributing to declining enrollment across Santa Clara County school districts. McCarthy said a number of her colleagues moved to other states like New Mexico last year where they could secure housing on a teacher’s salary.

    Teacher housing in the works

    This isn’t Santa Clara County’s first foray into teacher housing.

    An ongoing project at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto, which received a $25 million donation from Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is set to break ground in the next few months and wrap up construction by spring 2025. The building will include 110 affordable apartments for teachers and other staff, like school nurses. Housing will be allocated to employees from the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Whisman School District and Los Altos School District, as well as districts from San Mateo County.

    Officials said it serves as a blueprint for future teacher housing projects, as educational institutions examine their options. One local church converted its convent to house teachers and school districts are working to construct entire apartment buildings for educators.

    Foothill-De Anza Community College District spokesperson Paula Norsell said a 2020 survey from the district revealed that more than half of employees surveyed, who were interested in the Grant Avenue apartments, had to commute between one and two hours to work. The district has reserved 12 apartments and applicants will be picked through a lottery process, she added.

    “Helping employees find affordable living options closer to work helps with retention, attracting candidates, quality of life issues and having employees participate in campus life,” Norsell told San José Spotlight.

    Simitian said teacher housing provides a long-term solution to teacher shortages and retention.

    “When people who work and teach in our schools are part of the community, understand the community dynamics, understand the pressures there… That’s a good thing,” he said.

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

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