Silicon Valley educators locked out of housing market
San Jose school districts have had difficulty filling teacher roles post-pandemic. Photo courtesy of San Jose Unified School District.

To attract and retain teachers and other workers, Silicon Valley school districts need a golden ticket—affordable housing.

House buying in the Bay Area has become so prohibitive, educators are either forced to pay expensive rents or live hours away. In response to this crisis, Los Gatos, Palo Alto and Santa Clara have invested in teacher housing, and Alum Rock Union School District is hoping to do the same by putting a bond measure on the November ballot to help fund a $27 million housing project. 

Alum Rock teacher Luvia Solis grew up and attended school in the same neighborhood where she teaches. She’s dreamt of owning a home near the school district. But she might have to let that dream go. Solis and two friends rent a house in Willow Glen. She doesn’t want to move and commute from the Central Valley where she could afford to buy a home. At the same time, she’s frustrated with paying rent indefinitely.

“It’s where my heart is and where I want to live,” she said, referring to Alum Rock.

The median single-family home price in San Jose continues to rise. The cost is up by 23.7% in 2022 compared to 2021, according to the California Association of Realtors. As of April, the median home price in San Jose is approximately $1.75 million. For Santa Clara County, the median home price is about $1.97 million as of June.

Although the school district is considering building houses and providing rent subsidies for teachers, Solis said it feels like a temporary solution.

“I’d be renting again and not building my generational wealth,” she told San José Spotlight, adding she’d prefer getting a raise or a matching funds program. “I love my job, but I feel like teachers are undervalued, underpaid and underappreciated.”

Los Gatos Mayor Rob Rennie said affordable housing is critical for teachers and their school districts. With Redevelopment Agency funds, Los Gatos built two homes and two accessory dwelling units downtown for teachers within walking distance of Los Gatos High School. Rennie said Los Gatos doesn’t have any additional properties to donate toward this effort. 

“They have been driving from… Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz,” he told San José Spotlight, “but even those places are getting more and more expensive. To be able to build teacher housing locally is really going to make a difference in being able to hire and retain teachers.”

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors worked to develop teacher and staff housing in Palo Alto. Rendering courtesy of Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian.

More housing needed

According to its website, Santa Clara Unified School District constructed 40 homes for district teachers in 2001 and an additional 30 in 2006. The 70 homes have been rented at below market rate to teachers for seven years. The Casa Del Maestro Complex is located on Santa Clara Unified School District-owned land. But the housing complex isn’t without its complaints about rising rents and fees. In 2018 the Santa Clara Teacher Housing Foundation, the nonprofit that operates the complex, decided to raise rents. Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor’s real estate business serves as the property manager and shares the same address with the foundation.

Santa Clara Councilmember Suds Jain said when he served on the finance committee four years ago, he suggested the city build a second Casa Del Maestro, but couldn’t get support from city workers or the school board. He said teachers are paid low salaries and can’t afford to live here despite demand.

“Teachers, especially new teachers, are really overworked,” he told San José Spotlight. “They should be able to live in the city and not have to have a terrible commute that’s stressful for them and takes up their valuable time.”

A 2016 Redfin study found 0% of homes in Santa Clara County were affordable on the average teacher’s salary and 31% of teacher households across California who rent are characterized as a cost burden.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian brought the issue of teacher housing to the board four years ago after hearing heartbreaking tales of teachers driving two hours each way to get to work or living in a spare room of a friend’s house. He said time spent driving is time away from helping a struggling student after class, being a club advisor or coaching.

“It also means they are essentially visitors to the community where they teach,” he told San José Spotlight.

In 2018, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved his proposal to develop affordable housing for teachers and other school employees: a 110-unit project at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto. Simitian said preparations and funding are in place, including a $25 million grant from Meta—Facebook’s parent company—along with sponsorships from Palo Alto, the county and participating school districts. Construction is slated for later this year.

Simitian views this project as a model for others and has already received interest from West Valley school districts. Supervisor Otto Lee has partnered with Simitian to explore subsidized teacher housing in the West Valley area, which includes Saratoga, Los Gatos, Campbell, Cupertino, Monte Sereno and portions of West San Jose. 

Simitian said in a statement given the immense and growing need for this type of housing, it is worth expanding to other parts of the county.

“You have to find the site and the funding,” he said. “It’s not an easy process, but it’s clearly doable.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Lisa Gillmor’s company that manages the rents at Casa Del Maestro raised the rents.

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