As interest and momentum builds across the Peninsula to build workforce housing for school teachers and faculty, a San Francisco senator is looking to supplement the effort through new legislation.
State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, authored Senate Bill 1413, which aims to clear the path for school districts interested in using surplus property to build affordable housing projects and help educators live in the communities where they teach.
The bill, which Leno said he expects will reach the Senate floor this week, could have particular resonance in San Mateo County as a variety of local school districts have expressed interest in building housing projects as a means of offering staff relief to the constantly escalating cost of living.
Leno, who represents some communities on the northern tip of San Mateo County, said he believes the bill could be a tremendous asset locally where so many school districts are struggling to attract and retain quality teachers.
“It’s not news that the entire Bay Area has a serious housing crisis, both in availability and access, and it is becoming ever more difficult for people to live anywhere near their place of employment,” he said. “It has special impact on school districts, because it is becoming ever more difficult to find teachers who will put up with the fact of having to spend between 50 and 60 percent of their income on housing.”
The bill would explicitly allow districts to use surplus property for developing workforce housing, and Leno hopes it would make it easier for officials to seek state, federal, private and other funding sources such as tax credits to finance the projects.
Leno said it is unclear whether there are policies in place which could block interested districts from building workforce housing, and his bill aims to clear any ambiguity.
“This is not a silver bullet. This is a complex issue. Housing in general for teachers and staff is. But this clarifies that school districts can use their own surplus properties for affordable housing purposes,” he said.
School officials in Redwood City, Belmont, San Mateo and South San Francisco are among those locally that have discussed building workforce housing projects.
The San Mateo County Community College District has built teacher housing projects at the Cañada College and College of San Mateo campuses, which have served as a model for other districts considering similar projects. Community college officials have also discussed expanding their workforce housing initiative to the Skyline College campus in San Bruno.
Some critics of affordable housing developments for teachers have suggested it is inappropriate for school systems to use resources for purposes other than enhancing curriculum or classroom services.
But Leno argued it is impossible to compartmentalize the struggle some teachers face on the housing market, and the quality of education they offer their students.
“If a district can’t hire a sufficient amount of teachers, nothing happens in the classroom,” he said. “These are completely interrelated issues.”
Enrollment in teacher credential programs has dropped precipitously in recent years, said Leno, and many of those who remain committed to the profession face long, exhaustive commutes from far-reaching areas of the Bay Area to their classroom.
The bill is currently sitting in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and with the lack of formal opposition it has faced to this point, Leno said he expects it should pass through the state Assembly and to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown by the end of the summer.
“Clearly action needs to be taken, and that’s what our bill is about,” he said.
Marc Friedman, a member of the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees, expressed his support for the initiative.
“That would really help us,” Friedman said, of the legislative effort in support of a teacher housing development.
The board last week approved moving ahead with a proposal to study building affordable teacher housing at Mills High School or the Crestmoor campus in San Bruno.
Friedman said he is hopeful legislators will consider establishing a fund from which school districts can borrow to finance development of workforce housing projects that would be separate from a revenue source to support classroom services.
Ultimately though, Friedman said he would support any legislation that supplements teacher and staff housing projects.
“I think it’s a good idea,” he said.
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