Mountain View Whisman School District officials are moving full-steam ahead on exploring ways to house teachers in Mountain View at below-market-rate prices. And while it's not clear what the district-owned teacher housing project would look like, a new survey suggests it would be wildly popular among district staff hungry for affordable housing.
Earlier this year, the school board agreed to look for ways to build a housing development on district land for Mountain View teachers struggling to make ends meet in the Bay Area. The high cost of housing, coupled with a salary schedule that is well below the area median income, was frequently cited at the March 17 school board meeting as a serious problem that has forced many teachers to choose between long commutes or leaving the district altogether.
School board members doubled down on that decision at their May 5 meeting, saying that it's time to consider a large-scale teacher housing development on some of the available district-owned land.
Over the last four years, the district has hired about 170 new teachers, mostly to make up for significant teacher turnover year to year, according to the Mountain View Educators Association. Finding enough people to fill vacancies for the 2015-16 school year was particularly challenging for district administrators, who had to go on a frantic hiring spree to fill 55 teaching positions for general education and special education.
Would a teacher housing project decrease turnover and attract more teachers? School staff think so. Recent survey results from 264 teachers and classified employees found that 59 percent of teachers are dissatisfied with their housing situation because of the high cost of rent, and an overwhelming majority -- 76 percent -- said they would be interested in living in a below-market-rate teacher housing project if it became available.
The survey results, available on the district website, provide a sobering snapshot of the discontent among district employees. More than two-thirds of the respondents said they are paying more than 30 percent of their paycheck on rent or mortgage payments, with just shy of 17 percent dumping more than half of their take-home pay on housing costs.
"Essentially, we have people working paycheck to paycheck," Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said at the meeting. "Most of that paycheck is actually just going towards paying the rent. That probably suggests that people have picked up a second job in order to make ends meet."
Just over half of the respondents, 54 percent, said commuting to work takes more than 20 minutes, with 22 percent commuting 46 minutes or more to get to work. And nearly a quarter of those surveyed said they expect to leave the district in the next three years. The main reasons included "insufficient" salaries and the inability to find affordable housing in a good location.
Board President Ellen Wheeler said she was "100 percent" in favor of a teacher housing project, and that finding ways to support teachers in an explosive housing market has been the center of discussion for school districts all over the county and the Bay Area. The survey, she said, underscores the need to take teacher housing more seriously.
"I'm very happy that we can do this for our teachers," Wheeler said. "We see the interest from our teachers; it just makes perfect sense to me."
Board member Greg Coladonato said attracting and retaining teachers is a top priority for the district, and having some kind of affordable housing option available could act as an incentive for teachers to work there.
"I would imagine that if we were able to find a way to make housing available at a more affordable rate that it would attract more teachers," Coladonato said. "It could only increase the attractiveness."
While teacher housing projects in the Bay Area are few and far between, board members showed interest in mimicking something like Santa Clara Unified School District's "Casa Del Maestro" project, which includes 70 units for teachers ranging from $880 to $1,400 a month. Canada College's housing development for faculty and staff, Canada Vista, also has 60 units available for rents ranging from $875 to $1,700.
Board member Bill Lambert gave his support for exploring teacher housing, but said he still needs to be convinced that the plan would be a financially sound investment for the district. He said it's possible that there are more prudent ways to increase retention and satisfaction among school staff, and that jumping into the business of real estate ownership ought to be done with solid information on whether it's actually feasible.
"It should be driven by data, not just warm and fuzzy feelings," Lambert said.