Plan proposed for affordable educator housing

Average Cupertino housing prices increased from $1.9 million to $2.7 million in the 2020s, according to Movoto Real Estate.

Graphic illustration by Chelsea Lee and Valerie Shu.

Average Cupertino housing prices increased from $1.9 million to $2.7 million in the 2020s, according to Movoto Real Estate.

Qianzi Loo, Web Editor

The difficult search for teachers’ affordable housing in the Bay Area, especially the South Bay, has yet to become easier. In response, school districts around Calif. are considering subsidized homes with rents below the local market price for educators. This would help Lynbrook teachers afford to live closer to the schools they work at and reduce commute times. 

In March, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to allocate about five acres of land in Cupertino for educator homes, of which 1.5 acres are currently owned by Apple. The county hopes to negotiate a land swap with Apple to obtain space for a subsidized housing program. 

Educators in Silicon Valley have long commute times as rising living costs and lower salaries have forced them to settle down farther from their workplaces. According to the teacher’s union in San Francisco and CBS in 2019, teacher turnover rates in the Bay Area could be as high as 21%. At Lynbrook, some teachers live as far as Santa Cruz or Pacifica. Thus, for years, the district has been trying to obtain subsidized housing for teachers, but the lack of unused land has proved to be a significant obstacle. 

“Our district doesn’t have any unused land, but some districts do,” FUHSD Associate Superintendent Tom Avvakumovits said. “In this area, the biggest cost is the price of the land, which has thwarted our efforts to build our own staff housing.”

Assembly Bill 2295, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sept. 2022, would make it easier for school districts in Calif. to use real property they own to build affordable housing for educators, but the bill is only primarily beneficial only to school districts that have pre-existing unused land.

Additionally, rent affordability has worsened the educator shortage crisis as salaries in most cities are inadequate to support local living, even with salary increases, causing teachers to move between schools in the district or switch districts entirely. The median FUHSD teacher earns $79,700, which is better than other Bay Area cities. Despite this, housing prices near FUHSD schools are still unaffordable for most teachers. 

The force behind the substantial surge in housing prices during the last few years comes from a variety of factors. As demand for housing and prices rose during the pandemic, the government tried to increase interest rates to flatten the rising trend. For teachers, this makes it more difficult to compete against higher-income buyers who don’t need loans. 

“It’s much more expensive to borrow money now than it used to be,” said Lance Shoemaker, Department Chair of Business Administration and Real Estate at West Valley College. “Before, teachers were squeezed by rising prices. Now, they’re being squeezed by the rising interest rates. In general, the people who are planning to buy real estate right now are the ones who don’t have to borrow money — they’re paying cash.”

Although there have not been any perfect solutions, the district has constantly tried to provide more affordable housing. For the past six years, FUHSD has partnered with the company Landed, which provides educators with homes 50 to 70% below the market rate. They aim to reduce the burden on educators by covering more of the down payment. The median down payment was around 13% in 2022, which many educators can’t afford. 

However, these partnerships come with certain limitations, as most government or similar programs that help reduce costs for educators require extra paperwork and time. In the South Bay where there are not enough homes, real estate agents may choose to go with the quickest and easiest option. 

“The problem for educators is that even though they qualify for the loan and would pay the same amount anybody else would, it’s going to take longer with them, and most sellers don’t want to deal with that,” Shoemaker said.

For teachers who may be used to where they lived before coming to work in FUHSD or prefer larger homes because of their family size, subsidized housing may not be the best option. For others, they may want the district to reallocate the money toward something else.

“If you’re a younger teacher, that would be a benefit,” history teacher Nate Martell said. “The plans of subsidized housing I’ve seen from other school districts include one-bedroom apartments, basically making apartment complexes. That’s one way to do it, but it only appeals to a certain demographic of teachers.”

Nonetheless, the subsidized housing program is promising for future teachers and existing staff members. 

“We’ve been in communication with Sunnyvale Elementary and Cupertino Union School District,” Avvakumovits said. “We’ve made a commitment for the three districts to look together about what are some options available for our staff.”