A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
A guide to affordable teacher housing
Lessons learned from Mountain View Whisman School District
By Ayindé Rudolph | May | June 2024
You can teach here, but you can’t live here.
It’s the heartbreaking reality that many teachers and school staff in California face.
Even as districts strain to recruit and retain teachers, the challenges for educators stack up — high rent, long commutes, rising cost of living. Teachers find a position somewhere more affordable, and they take it.
Five years ago, these staffing challenges prompted our district to try a novel approach: developing our own teacher and staff housing facility (Rudolph, 2023). As our community enters the final phase of a 144-unit facility for district teachers and staff, we’re looking back — and paving the way for other districts contemplating teacher housing.
Here’s what we’ve learned.
Identify the community’s needs
Begin by taking a close look at the challenges in your community.
Ask: Why have teachers and staff left?
Consider internal data, such as exit interviews, and identify the recurring reasons why teachers and staff have left the school district. If your district doesn’t keep records of why employees are leaving, it may be wise to begin collecting that information.
If housing costs, long commutes and cost of living are recurring answers, see what percentage of former employees cite these as reasons for leaving.
Ask: What stops candidates from applying?
Compare the district’s salary rates with average rent in the surrounding area. Many budgeting resources suggest housing should take up around a third of someone’s monthly take-home pay. Are starting salaries for new teachers meeting this threshold?
And rent alone doesn’t account for how expensive it is to live in a community. Cost of living can also influence people to leave. Where do new hires and less experienced employees rank financially in comparison to the local community? Are they considered low income? Do they fall below the local poverty level?
Conduct a survey: As districts crunch the numbers based on those who have previously worked at their schools, they can also turn to current teachers and staff.
Surveying a district’s educators can provide more information and let a district know if an affordable housing facility is something educators want. While conversations with a district’s team are valuable, education leaders will want hard data to prove the need for an affordable housing project.
Surveys might include questions like:
  • How long is your average commute?
  • Do you commute in on weekends as well?
  • Do you spend more than 35 percent of your monthly take-home pay on housing?
  • Does homeownership seem within your reach?
  • How many people are in your household?
  • What is your household income?
  • Would you consider living in a housing facility offered by the district?
Gathering the data ahead of time ensures that district leaders already have the answers. It quantifies the need and shows a school board, a city council or a potential developer that the district has done its homework.
Explore funding opportunities
As the vision of affordable teacher and staff housing takes shape, school districts must determine how they’ll fund a project of this magnitude.
There are several options.
Bond measures: One straightforward method of financing a teacher and staff housing facility is a bond measure. A school district may put a bond measure up for a vote, requesting funding specifically for the facility. A ballot measure proposes additional spending at the local level and asks voters if they support or disapprove. Prior to elections, district leaders will need to maximize public support and awareness to pass the measure.
Certificates of participation: Another option is certificates of participation. With this method, investors purchase shares of a program’s lease revenue. In some states, a saleback or leaseback transaction may also open up opportunities for funding.
Sponsorships: Another avenue for funding a project is sponsorships. Districts may offer rewards, such as plaques of commemoration or named facilities, in exchange for donations and financial contributions to support the facility.
Local tax opportunities: Some cities or counties may co
llect a parcel tax. This tax functions as a reserve, as it collects revenue and holds it for specific projects outside normal budgeting. Depending on a district’s location and local tax rules, a school housing project may qualify for these funds.
General funding: A last-resort method of funding this project is to pull from a district’s general funds, typically used each year for general operations or projects that arise.
Identifying the right funding may be challenging.
Once a district selects a funding approach, leaders must decide where to locate their affordable housing facility and what kind of construction project it will be.
There are at least two options:
  • Repurpose existing buildings.
  • Start from the ground up.
Both are viable, but the decision is largely influenced by what is available to the district nearby.
As our community enters the final phase of a 144-unit facility for district teachers and staff, we’re looking back — and paving the way for other districts contemplating teacher housing.
Partner with the community, for the community To get it all done — and done well — districts must build meaningful, strategic partnerships. Some districts may have close ties to members of local government or private industry. This project is an opportunity to transform those relationships into official partnerships. The further a project like this advances, the more others will be involved. Public partnerships: A district’s public partners are the public servants and members of local government who are heavily involved in the project. That may include the mayor, city council, zoning and regulatory officials, and more. There is immense value in involving local government, such as the city, county or state, in a project like this. They may, for example, be able to expedite construction through zoning and coding updates. They can also support the project financially, albeit indirectly. For example, they may be able to direct districts to a potential grant or other source of funding. Or, if a bond measure is the chosen funding path, public support from elected officials can have a significant impact on voters. Private partnerships: A construction company or developer is the most obvious private partner, and they will play a critical role throughout the years-long process. These private partners may also include others, such as the company that conducts the survey evaluating the district’s need or a firm that helps campaign for the passage of a bond measure. With private partnerships, districts should look for companies with mutual values and a shared vision. Finding the right partners and building strong relationships based on communication and trust will help this project go smoothly. Internal partnerships: Perhaps the most important partnership throughout the project is between a district and those whom the project serves: educators. These partners make up a school district’s team. District leaders will want to keep them in the loop, emphasize the value of their work, and maintain morale and momentum for the project. Building strong relationships, managing partners effectively and relying on others’ expertise is crucial. As districts work alongside their partners, it’s important to keep everyone informed, engaged and excited about the end goal. Celebrate progress and milestones Completing a housing facility is a years-long process.
It’s easy to get bogged down by unexpected obstacles, frustrating details or a lack of immediate results. That’s why districts should strive to regularly communicate progress and celebrate milestones with the community. Progress reports are one way to keep everyone informed and on track. Dedicating time regularly during board meetings, distributing a newsletter or simply managing a project webpage can help keep people interested. Also consider small celebrations along the way. Celebration-worthy milestones may include:
  • Passing a bond measure.
  • Breaking ground on a construction site.
  • Move-in day.
Different milestones will have different celebrations. If a bond measure is passed by the community, for example, the district might throw an ice cream social for teachers, staff, students and district families. Smaller milestones can be marked by custom videos or GIFs shared online, bringing people together and sustaining enthusiasm for the project. Inviting others into the process is key. This project is about teachers and staff, students and their families, and the community as a whole. Craft facility criteria As construction progresses, district leaders must first determine the procedures and parameters for rentals. That includes answering questions to provide teachers and staff with the criteria in advance. What pay grades qualify for housing? Is it a lottery system? Or is selection on a first-come, first-serve basis? Each district must formulate its own answers based on the long-term aims of the project. School districts should also build a relationship with a property management company that will handle day-to-day operations of the facility. Endure the final stretch Making it through the yearslong process will require dedication and perseverance. Education leaders must understand the gravity and intense work required for the pieces to fall into place. But at the end, there will be housing options for teachers and staff that are sorely needed. Inviting educators into the communities where they teach is a game changer. They can invest in their communities, and the community can, in turn, invest in them. An affordable housing facility is one innovative way that districts can demonstrate just how valuable educators are to a community, ultimately attracting and retaining high-quality teachers and staff to combat persistent shortages. Mountain View’s experience Silicon Valley and its surrounding neighborhoods have some of the highest average rents in the nation. In August 2022, Mountain View had the 16th highest rent in the United States at an average of $3,633 per month (Nelson, 2022). For years, our district struggled with teacher retention, largely due to cost-of-living barriers. Teachers lived far away or with multiple roommates, but these scenarios seldom worked long term. Though the district implemented significant salary increases, teachers and staff still needed an affordable, local place to live. We set out to create an affordable housing facility in 2017 (MVWSD, 2023). The journey has been long, but it has also been met with support from teachers, staff and the community. By working with the city and a local developer, Mountain View Whisman School District used a bond measure to secure funding and launch the facility’s construction. The housing facility, scheduled for completion in 2025, contains state-of-the art studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. The project is set to have 144 units, most of which are for school district teachers and staff who meet income requirements. The remaining units will be shared with city employees and the property management company. References Rudolph, Ayindé. Laying the Foundation: A Roadmap to Establishing Affordable Teacher Housing. Mountain View, 2023. Nelson, A. (September 19, 2022). Cities with the highest rent in the U.S.: August 2022. Rent. Research. https://www.rent.com/research/highest-rent-in-the-us/ MVWSD staff housing. Mountain View Whisman School District. (n.d.). https://www.mvwsd.org/housing Ayindé Rudolph, Ed.D., is the superintendent of Mountain View Whisman School District. The public school district serves K-8 students and their families in Silicon Valley.