Longtime San Francisco schoolteacher Lita Blanc has seen too many friends and colleagues leave. One by one, they’ve quit their jobs and moved away, unable to afford the high housing prices in the city.

“A week doesn’t go by without me hearing from a teacher about housing,” says Blanc.

There’s the friend who moved to Southern California’s High Desert, where he could buy a house. There’s the one who took a job across the San Francisco Bay in Marin County because it paid more. And, there’s the educator who commutes two hours a day to his classroom and is considering moving to another district.

“It’s dire,” Blanc says. “It’s just dire.”

Lita Blanc
Lita Blanc

This summer, the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) had to scramble to fill its teaching posts. Superintendent Richard Carranza even sent a letter to teachers urging them to help recruit educators to the district. Officials had still needed to find about three dozen teachers less than a month prior to the start of the school year.

Districts across the state were in a similar situation as a perfect storm took shape—a large number of older teachers retiring, fewer people entering the profession, and high attrition rates that are likely fueled, at least in part, by out-of-reach housing costs.

A beginning teacher with credentials earns about $52,000, according to Blanc, president of United Educators of San Francisco, the union that represents 6,000 teachers and other professionals. The average salary is around $69,000.

At the same time, San Francisco is one of the nation’s most expensive housing markets.  The median home value has gone up 13.6% over the past year, to $1,094,500, according to Zillow. Renting is no easier, with the median rent recently soaring to $4,310, says the company.

School districts seek solutions

Officials from SFUSD, the teachers union, and the city have been working to find solutions to the problem. The efforts are still in the early stages, but the group has identified three main strategies, according to Myong Leigh, deputy superintendent, policy and operations.

One is to build housing developments aimed at district employees. Another is to provide rental assistance to targeted groups of teachers and other employees, and the third strategy is to expand homeownership opportunities through existing programs like downpayment assistance and the Teacher Next Door, which helps educators buy their first homes in San Francisco.

When San Francisco voters go to the polls in November, they will decide the fate of a $310 million housing bond, a portion of which would go to fund new rental programs and expand the homeownership programs for teachers.

Building a brick-and-mortar development is a compelling idea, but there are no firm plans for a project yet.

It’s a strategy that’s already being used in Southern California, where the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has been involved in the creation of several recent developments aimed at district employees.

It worked with developer BRIDGE Housing to build Sage Park Apartments on surplus school land last year. LAUSD provided a long-term ground lease for the property, allowing BRIDGE to construct 89 affordable apartments plus a manager’s unit. Through an amendment to the city’s Consolidated Plan, the $28 million property gives preference to LAUSD employees working within a three-mile radius and district employees outside of the area. In addition, the project was marketed to the general public, including those with disabilities.

Abode Communities is developing Selma Community Housing, a 66-unit developing on property owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Scheduled to be completed next year, the community will serve district employees and other working families earning between 30% and 60% of the area median income.
Abode Communities is developing Selma Community Housing, a 66-unit developing on property owned by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Scheduled to be completed next year, the community will serve district employees and other working families earning between 30% and 60% of the area median income.

The next project is under construction. Abode Communities is developing the 66-unit Selma Community Housing development adjacent to Selma Elementary School in Hollywood. It’s the nonprofit’s second housing project with LAUSD.

“The school district is providing a 66-year ground lease, which helps subsidize the development itself,” says Robin Hughes, Abode president and CEO.

In exchange, half of the apartments will provide a preference to school district employees and the other half will be open to other income-qualified families. All households will earn no more than 60% of the area median income.

School district officials expect workers such as cafeteria staff, custodians, and aides to qualify. However, many teachers may not qualify because their incomes are higher than the allowed amounts.

Selma’s joint-use development also combines 117 parking spaces, of which 50 will provide staff parking for the elementary school during the day and supplement the neighborhood’s public parking supply at night.

Designed to LEED for Homes-Silver rating, the $32.9 million development is scheduled to be completed in the summer of 2016.

Selma Community Housing is being financed with a variety of public and private funding sources, including approximately $20 million in low-income housing tax credit equity from Union Bank, which is also providing construction and permanent loans.  The project is also using one of the last redevelopment agency loans from CRA/LA, the successor to the former Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, funds from the state Department of Housing and Community Development’s transit-oriented development program, and a soft loan from the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco. LAUSD is a major underwriter in the project, providing the 66-year ground-lease contribution valued at $1.9 million.

“We would like to take the model to other cities,”’ says Hughes. “It’s a great way in which school districts can utilize their surplus land to address their housing needs as an employer and the general community.”

LAUSD officials are also enthusiastic about the housing being built on district land.

“It’s a great story,” says Mark Hovatter, chief facilities executive. “Everyone is win-win on this. There are no real losers. There were no [district] dollars spent on this, but there are district employees that are receiving a direct benefit. And, it helps relieve an over-burdened housing situation.”

LAUSD has plans for one more housing project, a small 29-unit development at an elementary school near the University of Southern California.

Beyond that, the prospect of developing housing becomes uncertain. A recent state law calls for school districts to make surplus land available first to charter school proposals, says Hovatter. That could thwart the development of additional affordable homes.

Planting roots

In San Francisco, Blanc recalls starting out as an elementary schoolteacher in the city in 1986. She and her husband were able to buy a Victorian flat, where they raised two children and still live.

“That’s what I want for the newer generation, that they should be able to live in the city where they work and provide stability to the community,” she says. “There’s a different sense of yourself as an educator when you’re rooted in the community.”