South Bay project envisions designated, affordable housing for teachers

Santa Clara County Supervisor Jose Simitian has a vision to turn a space across from the courthouse in Palo Alto into designated, affordable housing for teachers.

Simitian says, "We can get this done if everybody's got the will. And so far we've got the property, we've got some funding and we've definitely got some support and that support is growing."

The county has set aside the property and tipped in $6 million. The city of Palo Alto has set aside $3 millio and there's a push to get local school districts on board to chip in $600,000 each.

This week the Los Altos School District voted unanimously to try to find the money.

Superintendent Jeffrey Baier says, "Teacher housing has been an on-going challenge for us. We hire incredibly high quality teachers in our district and retaining them over time is something we're really focused on."

And it's been nearly impossible to do. The high cost of living has meant an exodus of teachers. Those who do stay often have hours-long commutes. Sarah Chaffin is a mother and an advocate for teacher housing. She says she fears what will happen if something doesn't change.

Chaffin says, "Without them having a decent affordable place to live basically our school system is going to collapse."

Districts from Palo Alto to Mountain View have already expressed interest in the housing development.
And the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District has agreed to find money to join.

Simitian says, "I'm hoping we can have as many as five or six local school districts participate and serve something like 60 teacher families. It's not a total solution but it's a start. And you know what, if it works, well, we can do it again and again and again."

The size and configuration of the project is still up in the air. But teachers say they're hopeful it can be built.

Ricky Hu, President of the Los Altos Teachers Association says, "I think this would give new teachers one less thing to lose sleep over at night, which would make them more effective teachers, which are going to make them want to stay and work here. So I think it's an awesome opportunity."

Simitian is still in talks with other school districts about joining the project. He hopes to have formal proposal ready for this site by next year.