Palo Alto project could provide affordable housing for teachers

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This article was originally published in the Dec. 7, 2018 print edition of the Oracle 

At the Nov. 19 board meeting, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed a project to the school that would provide 60 to 120 below market rate housing units for Bay Area teachers at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto.

Simitian has asked four school districts, including the MVLA district, to set aside $600,000 per school for these units. So far, the Los Altos Elementary District trustees have voted unanimously to set aside money, the county has set aside $6 million, and Palo Alto city council has set aside $3 million. Foothill-De Anza Community College District’s board has also voted to set aside $600,000 to help fund the project.

Although the Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Whisman School District, and the MVLA District have yet to vote  to provide or look for funding, all have expressed interest.

According to the Mercury News, the median home price in Santa Clara County sits well over $1 million, making it one of the most expensive areas in the country to live in. Base salaries for beginning teachers in the MVLA district start at around $83,000 and can increase to around $98,000 after the first five years, which means most teachers spend a high percentage of their income on housing.

According to Principal David Grissom, the housing project could particularly benefit young teachers, who make much less compared to those who have worked at the district for many years, trying to settle down in the area and start their own families.

English teacher Virginia Sullivan has worked at the MVHS for six years Sullivan rents a house with three roommates in a three bedroom house in order to live close to the school and afford the area.

“I’m young right now, so it’s fine for me to have roommates,” Sullivan said. “When I start to think about the future and buying a house, it’s just not really possible here.”

“If the teachers who qualify for a unit could save some money, they could eventually make a down payment on a home,” Grissom said.

Grissom expressed concern that high housing costs could cause teachers to shy away from seeking jobs in our district, and said providing more affordable housing serves as part of  a county-wide effort to avoid a teacher shortage.

However, Grissom added that funding the housing project could be an inefficient use of district funding.

“If only 12 teachers benefitted from this, the rest of the employees would not benefit,” he said. “But I know it’s very difficult to live on a teacher’s salary for any educator in this area.”

David Campbell, Spanish teacher and president of the District Teacher Association, said that he supports the initiative to provide teachers with affordable housing.

“We’ve dedicated our lives to serving children, and even so we can’t afford to live here,” Campbell said. “So I think we as a society need to come up with better options.”Another issue Campbell said is plaguing teachers is the ability for their children to attend Mountain View schools.

Sullivan worked as a student teacher for one year before she decided to work at the school full-time. She said that at that point in her life, she didn’t factor the cost of living in the Bay Area when making her decision. However, she said she realizes now that buying a house in Santa Clara County will pose significant difficulties compared to if she had chosen to work in a different region.

“Whether you realize it or not, the amount you are going to pay for where you live plays into your decisions of where you are going to work, which is unfortunate,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan said she supports the idea of the housing project, as it could provide teachers with the opportunity to live close to their work at a comfortable standard of living. Although she does think that this initiative is important, Sullivan also considers it to be a “Band-Aid” for the current systemic issue considering the cost of living in the Bay Area.

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Reeya Vasishta

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