Looking Toward the Future: San José Unified’s Employee Housing InitiativeTop
Silicon Valley is one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. Rent has been rising faster in San José and the surrounding area than just about anywhere else in the country for over a decade and housing cost increases show no signs of slowing down. The high cost of living in this area is forcing many of our students and employees out.
San José Unified offers unparalleled supports and professional development opportunities for the people who work here. Whether they support our students as a bus driver, custodian, teacher, secretary, or principal, our employees have great benefits and salaries competitive with those in many area districts. But public education in California is inequitably and inadequately funded. Some of our neighbors are basic aid districts, which means their local property tax revenue exceeds the state’s minimum funding guarantee and goes directly to their public schools. They thus have considerably more money to devote to employee compensation than we have, making it tough for us to compete with what they can offer. Especially given the statewide teacher shortage, it is getting harder to recruit and retain the innovative workforce that makes the San José Unified school system excellent.
The Teacher Housing Act of 2016 encourages school districts to use state and local funds to construct employee housing. Other legislation extends the property tax exemption for schools to affordable rental housing for school employees on district land. Together, these laws mean school districts can build rental units and offer them to school employees at substantial discounts, perhaps even below half of market rates. The laws offer districts a creative way to raise the standard of living for teachers and other school staff.
Land is one of San José Unified’s most valuable assets. We own 70 acres in the Almaden Valley in addition to dozens of school sites. We’ve also been examining how to better align student needs with district facilities. Due in no small part to the housing affordability issues San José Unified families are facing, we are dealing with enrollment imbalances. Some schools are undersubscribed and can offer fewer programs to students as a result. Others are close to capacity, meaning they may soon be forced to turn away families who wish to attend. In addition, while our current facilities serve students well, school design has advanced considerably since some of them were built. The introduction of new incentives to build employee housing provides us with a unique opportunity to realign enrollment, upgrade facilities, and simultaneously help our employees navigate the rising cost of living.
August 17, 2017 (Board Meeting): Board approves creation of an advisory committee on enrollment projections and the utilization of San José Unified facilities.
October 10, 2017: Advisory Committee on Current Enrollment, Enrollment Projections, and Utilization of District Facilities recommends a comprehensive review of facilities needs and immediate attention to enrollment imbalances.
August 23, 2018 (Board Meeting): Staff present an update on enrollment and San José Unified properties, asking for guidance on whether to maintain the status quo, continue to monitor the issues, or prepare a plan for how to potentially move forward. Board directs staff to prepare a plan.
September 13, 2018 (Board Meeting): Board adopts staff recommendation to identify a set of properties that have the potential to 1) better serve students, 2) positively address enrollment imbalances across schools, and 3) support employee housing projects.
September 27, 2018 (Board Meeting): Staff present nine properties that can potentially 1) better serve students, 2) positively address enrollment imbalances across schools, and 3) support employee housing projects. Board instructs staff to begin exploring the feasibility of projects involving the nine properties.
October 3, 2018: At the request of employees and community members, San José Unified hosts an informational meeting on the potential plan for properties at Leland High School.
October 17, 2018: At the request of employees and community members, San José Unified hosts an informational meeting on the potential plan for properties at Gardner Elementary School.
November 26, 2018: Citizens’ Bond Oversight Committee discusses the potential plan for properties.
February 7, 2019 (Board Meeting): New Board members receive an informational update on the nine properties that can potentially 1) better serve students, 2) positively address enrollment imbalances across schools, and 3) support employee housing projects.
March 28, 2019 (Board Meeting): Board approves contract with The Schoennauer Company LLC to help prioritize and move forward with finalizing properties that can 1) better serve students, 2) positively address enrollment imbalances across schools, and 3) support employee housing projects.
Next steps: San José Unified will consider additional consultants to assist with the research and review of potential projects involving the nine identified properties. Staff will then return to the Board with recommendations on which projects should move forward.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What are the nine potential properties and how were they selected?
The chart below, first presented at the September 27, 2018 Board meeting, shows the nine properties staff believe can potentially 1) better serve students, 2) positively address enrollment imbalances across schools, and 3) support employee housing projects. Despite housing the state’s flagship two-way bilingual immersion program, for instance, River Glen would benefit from different facilities. Bachrodt, Bret Harte, Burnett, Leland, and Second Start-Pine Hill were also built several decades ago and, while meeting student needs, don’t provide the same amenities present in schools designed today. Several sites on the list also face enrollment challenges. Many families have to cross freeways to get to Gardner, Bret Harte and Leland are running up against capacity constraints, Burnett is far away from the high school it feeds into, and the boundaries around Olinder currently divert families who live across the street to a different school. In addition, each property – whether because of nearby parks, proximity to transit, or other factors – would provide a suitable location for employee housing. Each property’s “major consideration” will be a key factor in determining whether or not a project there is ultimately feasible.
- How many employees would this project serve?
San José Unified is committed to providing housing options for at least 10% of our workforce, or about 300 employees. We are also committed to providing affordable options for employees at a variety of income levels.
- How have you assessed the demand and need for employee housing?
We have looked at statewide trends, current hiring challenges, and feedback from departing employees, including teachers. San José Unified faces a serious bus driver shortage and has lost a number of quality employees due to affordability issues in recent years. We have also listened to our employee groups, who have highlighted the challenges posed by the cost-of-living in this area and expressed an interest in creative solutions. We believe it’s important to take action now so that, ten years from now, we can still fill all of our positions with high-quality staff.
- What type of housing would San José Unified build?
All new housing would be consistent with other housing in the neighborhood in which it is built. Some locations might be ideal for single-family homes; in others, high-density apartments might make more sense.
- How long will it take to build employee housing?
The length of time will vary depending on the specific characteristics and major considerations of each site. Projects that would invoke the need for new school construction would likely take at least five to seven years, whereas other projects could potentially come to fruition in the next two to three years. We will develop a clearer timeline when we begin moving forward with a subset of properties.
- Could San José Unified buy existing housing instead of building new housing?
Theoretically, but new construction on land we already own would be significantly cheaper than purchasing housing on the open market. Individual buildings scattered around the city would also be much harder to maintain than contiguous properties.
- How much will these projects cost and who will fund them?
We actually don’t know yet – there are too many variables to assign a realistic cost estimate until we narrow the list of potential sites and conduct a thorough analysis of the finalists. We plan to work with Santa Clara County, the City of San José, the state of California, and any other interested partners to identify funding options.
This effort includes better facilities for our students in addition to employee housing, and depending on the amount of funding that we are able to secure, a general obligation bond is a possibility. We are fortunate to currently have one of the lowest general obligation bond tax rates among school districts in Santa Clara County.
- Why are you hiring consultants?
At the February 7, 2019 Board meeting, staff committed to interviewing and recommending to the Board consultants with land use and construction expertise who could assist with this complex project. Those with expertise in these areas can help us move employee housing forward in the best locations possible and enable district staff to continue to focus on the day-to-day work of educating our 30,000 students.
- What is the plan for San José Unified’s 70 acres of land in the Almaden Valley?
As discussed at the October 3 informational meeting, San José Unified hopes to partner with Santa Clara County to increase the total amount of public space in the Almaden Valley. The land San José Unified currently owns could connect county parkland and there’s a similarly sized plot of land off of Harry Road that is currently privately held. If we can negotiate a land exchange, Santa Clara County would get increased park space and bike trails while San José Unified would retain the same amount of land in an area closer to the rest of our district. Because of the clear public benefit it would bring, San José Unified plans to pursue this concept irrespective of the employee housing initiative and master plan process.
- What other information is available on this topic?
San José Unified is in the early stages of this process; the information above covers everything we know at this time. Those interested can also peruse our full set of supporting documents and presentations. We won’t know the answers to most site-specific questions until we begin moving forward with a subset of properties.
- What media coverage has this issue received?
Articles about our efforts have appeared in The New York Times, CityLab, Fast Company, and other media outlets. There has also been extensive reporting, including in The Mercury News, on the area’s affordable housing crisis.
- Can I share feedback on this initiative?
Thank you for your interest in this project. We are excited about its potential to help us better prepare today’s students to be the leaders, thinkers, and creators of tomorrow and look forward to partnering with you to seize this opportunity.