County Moves Forward with the Teacher Housing in Palo Alto

August 13, 2019


SAN JOSE – The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisor voted unanimously today to take the next steps towards building affordable teacher housing in Palo Alto. The project got a push forward, as Mercy Housing was named as the County’s development partner, in cooperation with Abode Communities, to work with the County, City, and School Districts to move the project forward.

The project, proposed by Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian, aims to bring critically needed workforce housing to teachers in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

“Now it’s real,” said Simitian. “We have a site. We have some initial funding. We have interest from local school districts. And now we have an experienced development partner to help us organize and build the project.”

“It’s better for everyone – folks trying to avoid traffic, kids getting an education, school districts trying to hire and retain the very best teachers for our schools, and of course our teachers themselves – when our teachers can live in or close to the communities where they teach,” said Simitian.

In 2018, Simitian proposed building teacher housing on a County-owned 1.5 acre site at 231 Grant Road in Palo Alto, across the street from the County Courthouse. In response to Simitian’s proposal:

  • The Board of Supervisors agreed in January of 2018 to set the site aside for teacher housing pending a more detailed plan;
  • Then, in April of 2018, the Board of Supervisors agreed to set aside $6 million to help fund the project (using funds from the Stanford Affordable Housing Fund, which are funds the County specifically designated for the creation of affordable housing near the Stanford University Campus);
  • In June of 2018 the Palo Alto City Council unanimously voted to set aside $3 million in developer fees to help fund the project (again, contingent on a formal proposal acceptable to the City); and,
  • In August of 2018, the Foothill-De Anza Community College District Board of Trustees voted to identify $600,000 in funding to be used for the project. Four other school districts (Mountain View Whisman School District, Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Los Altos School District and Los Altos School District) followed suit and have already directed their administrations to identify funds for the project.
  • And now, Santa Clara County has authorized staff to negotiate with a selected developer, Mercy Housing Management Group, to design and develop the teacher housing.

Mercy Housing Management Group, comprised of Mercy Housing and Abode Communities, was selected in a competitive RFP (request for proposals)  process as the top choice among four applicants.

School employees, particularly those in the early and middle parts of their careers, are part of what is sometimes referred to as the “missing middle” – they don’t qualify for traditional affordable housing, but they can’t afford market-rate housing prices that are geared towards significantly higher-incomes.

Due to the high cost of living, local school districts continuously face teacher shortages and teacher retention issues. It is often too expensive for teachers to live in or near the districts where they teach; and teachers sometimes leave their school districts midway through their careers in order to move to lower-cost areas.

Simitian noted that “No one wins when local teachers have to commute from miles and miles away. It’s hard to attract and retain the best teachers available. Time in the car is time not spent with students or preparing lesson plans. And our teachers become more and more remote from the communities where they teach. This was already a challenge years ago when I was on the School Board, and it’s only gotten worse with every passing year. I don’t think we have to accept this as inevitable. With a little creativity and collaboration, we can make progress.”

The 231 Grant Ave site could host a significant number of units – anything from 60 units to 120 – but Simitian notes that all parties will have to be open to change as community members and funding partners weigh in on what is both possible and compatible with the surrounding community. Community services currently on the site could either be relocated nearby or remain on the current site on the ground floor.

Simitian, who grew up in Palo Alto as a teacher’s son, said, “I can recall the days when a teacher could own their own home here in Palo Alto, or in a nearby community. I know we can’t turn back the clock, but I’m convinced that there are solutions to this problem.”



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