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Facebook puts $25 million into teacher housing project

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Town Crier File Photo
Facebook has contributed $25 million to a subsidized housing development for teachers 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.

Facebook is contributing $25 million to the subsidized teacher housing project in Palo Alto that is being spearheaded by Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Joe Simitian.

The money from Facebook will help fund 90-120 units of housing for area teachers on the 1.5-acre plot of land at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto, across the street from the county courthouse.

“It makes the whole project go,” Simitian said. “It also means we can fund a project that has the maximum number of units consistent with the surrounding neighborhood.”

When the county first conducted a conceptual analysis last year, it was determined that the site could accommodate 60-120 units. The nonprofit developers the county selected in August have estimated that they can build a little over 90 units, Simitian said, noting that more units may be possible.

Five local school districts have committed to pitching in $600,000 for the project: Los Altos, Mountain View Los Altos Union, Mountain View Whisman, Palo Alto Unified and Foothill-De Anza Community College.

As a condition of Facebook’s contribution, the project will expand to include school districts in south San Mateo County.

According to Simitian, that means the Menlo Park City School District, Las Lomitas Elementary School District and Ravenswood City School District, as well as Menlo-Atherton High School.

“If we’re in the northernmost city in Santa Clara County, then just in terms of geography it makes sense to have folks from south San Mateo and north Santa Clara counties,” he said.

Because of Facebook’s contribution, the San Mateo school districts won’t be asked to put in the $600,000 that the other districts were. Facebook’s headquarters is in Menlo Park, which is part of San Mateo County.

The investment is an extension of a teacher housing program the company launched in 2017, which currently provides 22 affordable units for Ravenswood School District teachers.

Other funding sources

In addition to Facebook’s money and the five local school districts, Santa Clara County and the city of Palo Alto have agreed to help fund project.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has pledged $6 million from the Stanford Affordable Housing Fund for the project. Those are fees Stanford University pays when it constructs additional buildings. The county also owns the land and agreed to set it aside for the project. The Palo Alto City Council has agreed to contribute $3 million in developer fees.

According to Simitian, it is still possible that additional funding partners will emerge.

In August, the board of supervisors unanimously voted to work with nonprofit developers Mercy Housing and Abode Communities on the project.

“Within the last two months, things have really gotten real,” Simitian said.

Because the project involves multiple agencies, developers, school districts and now a private company, Simitian acknowledged that it can sometimes get complicated. However, he said combining forces means they can get more done than any one of them could have individually.

“On the one hand, the project is just one project. … It’s a good start, but it’s just a start,” he said. “On the other hand, I think the project can and should serve as a model for other similar projects going forward.”

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