Subsidized teacher housing project moves forward

231 Grant Ave.” width=
Zoe Morgan/Town Crier
A subsidized housing development for teachers is planned at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto. The 1.5-acre site currently has parking and a building on it that houses space for the county public defender’s office, as well as for some nonprofit groups.

The push for subsidized teacher housing in the area took a big step forward last week when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors selected developers for a planned project in Palo Alto.

The board unanimously voted to work with nonprofit developers Mercy Housing and Abode Communities on the construction of 60-120 units on the 1.5-acre plot of land at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto, across the street from the county courthouse.

Five local school districts have signed on to the project: Los Altos, Mountain View Los Altos Union, Mountain View Whisman, Palo Alto Unified and Foothill-De Anza Community College.

“I am optimistic that we can make a real dent in the problem and that as a result, local school districts will continue to be able to attract and retain top quality staff,” said Joe Simitian, Board of Supervisors president. “And that means we’re going to do an even better job for the kids in our area, and that’s key to the strength of our communities.”

Simitian initially proposed the project last year and said he hopes it can become a model for others to replicate.

He estimates that construction could total $36 million. That’s based on an estimate of $600,000 per unit for a 60-unit development. However, Simitian said those numbers are likely to change as the project progresses and more details are hammered out.

Finding funding sources

The county has pledged $6 million from the Stanford Affordable Housing Fund. Those are fees Stanford University pays when it constructs additional buildings. The money is specifically set aside for building affordable housing near Stanford.

The Palo Alto City Council has agreed to put $3 million in developer fees toward the project. Each of the five school districts has committed to pitching in $600,000. However, these contributions won’t be finalized until the project moves further along, Simitian said.

He added that he understands school districts haven’t historically been expected to provide teacher housing and haven’t had to find money in their budgets for it.

On the Los Altos School District’s part, board of trustees president Jessica Speiser said the district is committed to finding the money for the project.

However, the district is facing a tight budget and has dipped into reserves over the past few years, so Speiser said there aren’t currently extra funds in the budget for the project. Instead, the district hopes to find private donors willing to support the plan. In lieu of that, Speiser said the district could possibly get a loan that would be paid off by a slight increase in the rent teachers pay.

Despite the challenges, Speiser said helping teachers find housing is critical and the district wants to help however it can.

“We’re really excited for any kind of teacher housing project in this area because … it’s astronomically expensive to live in our area and our teachers for the most part can’t afford to live anywhere near the district,” she said.

In addition to the money the county, city and school districts have agreed to chip in, the county is providing the 1.5 acre site, which Simitian estimates is worth $12 million. Although the county will retain ownership of the land, Simitian said it will likely lease the property to Mercy and Abode for low or no cost.

All of these measures will help reduce the rent teachers pay.

“All of a sudden our crazy bad rental market is back in the range of affordable for teachers who are making what we used to think of as a middle-class salary,” Simitian said.

The rest of the project’s funding has yet to be finalized, but Simitian said there are many options now that developers have been picked.

Simitian noted that 231 Grant is an ideal site because it is close to the California Avenue Caltrain station, shops and major thoroughfares including El Camino Real and Oregon Expressway.

“In terms of transportation and services, it couldn’t be better situated,” he said.

Currently, the 1.5-acre site has parking and a building on it that houses space for the county public defender’s office and nonprofit groups. Simitian said they will likely be moved to a nearby building.

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