October 17, 2019
FACEBOOK MAKES $25 MILLION GIFT TO FUND
SAN JOSE – Santa Clara County Supervisor and Board President Joe Simitian and Facebook announced today a $25 million gift by Facebook to fund an unprecedented venture to build affordable housing for local teachers and school staff.
Facebook will be contributing $25 million in funds for the teacher and essential worker housing project that has been making steady progress over the past year and a half. The planned site of construction is 231 Grant Ave, Palo Alto, CA, which is a County-owned property.
“This is an exceptional gift by Facebook. It helps our teachers. It helps our schools. And it helps our communities. From the beginning, Facebook ‘got it’…the importance of affordable teacher housing in the communities where teachers teach,” said Simitian.
The partnership with Facebook will fund between 90 and 120 homes for teachers and school staff working within school districts in Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Palo Alto, and Los Altos. So far, Mountain View Whisman School District, Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Los Altos School District, Foothill-De Anza Community College District and Los Altos School District have directed their administrations to identify funding for participation in the project.
“We’re excited to deepen our commitment to housing for people across the economic spectrum. We launched our teacher housing program in Menlo Park in 2017 and now we’re excited to join Santa Clara County, the City of Palo Alto, and local school districts in this partnership,” said John Tenanes, Facebook’s Vice President for Real Estate.
“Teachers are the heart of our communities and their work is essential to promote social mobility and economic opportunity for future generations,” said Tenanes. “We hope partnerships like this can inspire other communities to develop their own innovative solutions to providing housing for teachers and other public service professionals, keeping them in the communities that depend on them.”
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;
- 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 (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 directed their administrations to identify funds for the project.
- In August of 2019, Santa Clara County authorized staff to negotiate with selected development partners Mercy Housing and Abode Communities to develop the site.
- And now Facebook, has invested $25 million in funds that will increase the number of homes the project can support to also serve school districts in Menlo Park and East Palo Alto. This investment is an extension of Facebook’s Teacher Housing Program which launched in 2017 and which currently provides 22 affordable units for teachers within the Ravenswood School District.
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 challenges hiring teachers, as well as 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 accommodate a significant number of units – anything from 90 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.”
Simitian said that while he is excited about the potential for this particular project, he believes that, “this project can serve as a model for others. I think we can do more and more and more.”