With teachers struggling to stay afloat in Silicon Valley’s exorbitant real estate market, the East Side Union High School District Board (ESUHSD) voted to place a $60 million bond measure on the ballot to fund an apartment complex for its employees.
If voters OK the measure in the March primary, the district would build 100 below-market-rate homes—an array of one-, two- and three-bedroom units—alongside its headquarters at 830 N. Capitol Ave. ESUHSD trustee Pattie Cortese said she hopes the units will go for 25 to 30 percent below market rate.
The building would only break ground, however, if the City Council agrees to rezone the 4.5-acre site from light commercial to residential. And only employees who aren’t already homeowners would be eligible to live there. At build-out, the district expects rent from the apartment complex to generate about $1 million to $2 million in revenue.
“The units will support not only our teachers, but our classified staff too,” Cortese said in a phone call with San Jose Inside. “Without our custodians, tenant clerks, cafeteria workers and bus drivers, schools won’t function.”
Classified staff—employees like cafeteria employees—make up 22 percent of the district’s workforce. According to Superintendent Chris Funk, the starting salary of a classified worker comes to $40,000 while the starting salary for a teacher is $61,000. As rents continue to surge in the Bay Area, Funk said many employees opt to move an hour or more away in their quest for cheaper rents.
“Our employees are having to double up where they live—take on roommates or go to more affordable areas,” he said. “Teachers are spending less time preparing, supporting extracurricular. That impacts their work and personal life balance.”
Some 14 percent of the school district’s employees live outside of Santa Clara County, according to the agency’s data. Around 32 percent of employees commute 21 minutes to an hour to get to work. And 47 percent of employees rent instead of own their own home.
“Every year, we have teachers who have to relocate to less expensive area or even move out of California,” ESUHSD board Vice President Lan Nguyen said. “We also have so many teachers and staff who have to live far away like Los Banos and Hollister. They have to drive almost an hour and two hours to go to work. We worry about [retaining and recruiting] young teachers. We have staff retiring. This is something we need to do.”
The Santa Clara Unified School District was one of the first local districts to build affordable housing for teachers—and that was way back in 2002. Now, other school districts, universities and corporations are following suit. San Jose Unified School District is studying potential sites for employee housing, while Facebook recently gave $25 million to the county to build new homes for teachers and staff. Meanwhile, Santa Clara University has partnered with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Bellarmine College Preparatory to build an employee housing project.
If East San Jose residents pass the $60 million bond measure on the spring primary ballot, Funk said they would be taxed at 2.75 percent for every $100,000 of assessed property value. That is, on average, about $18 a year.
The district has already polled likely voters about the bond measure, and Cortese said the findings are promising. “The community is very supportive of this,” she said. “The voters in our community have been extraordinarily generous with us in terms of supporting our school facilities. That’s very encouraging.”