Not In My Backyard: Some Locals Oppose San Jose’s Idea For Affordable Teacher Housing

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Written by Dana Sanchez

In Silicon Valley, where rising housing costs outpace the low wages teachers are paid, school districts are forced to be creative to find and retain educators and other school workers.

Teachers have to commute up to four hours a day to and from schools in San Jose, according to The Mercury News.

San Jose, population 1 million-plus, has a 2018 median household income of $90,303.

The San Jose Unified School District has identified nine district-owned properties where it wants to build hundreds of new affordable housing units for teachers and other school employees. However, the proposal calls for schools to be relocated to make way for the housing, and some community members are up in arms.

Five thousand people signed an online petition arguing that the schools are vital to the neighborhood, and that building low-cost housing in their place would depress home values, negatively impact the aesthetics of the area and worsen traffic.

Teachers and other school staff are refusing jobs or quitting, forcing the school district to replace one out of seven teachers each year. When teachers quit, they almost always blame the region’s high cost of living, The Mercury News reported.

Affordable Teacher Housing
In this photo taken Oct. 10, 2017, Ellen Tara James-Penney, a lecturer at San Jose State University, prepares to stay the night inside her station wagon in the parking lot of Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, Calif. The booming economy along the West Coast has led to an historic shortage of affordable housing and has upended the stereotypical view of people out on the streets. Reporting by The Associated Press finds that many of them are employed, working as retail clerks, plumbers, janitors _ even teachers. They go to work, sleep where they can and buy gym memberships for a place to shower. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

 

The problem facing the San Jose Unified School District isn’t unique. School districts all over the U.S. are struggling with retaining teachers, Market Watch reported. Home prices and the cost of living are increasing while teacher pay is getting worse. San Jose seems a fitting epicenter for the problem, because it has the highest median home list price in the U.S. as of Sept. 1, 2018 —  $1.15 million, according to data from Realtor.com.

Since May 2012, home prices in the San Jose metropolitan area have risen 129 percent. Housing is now five times more expensive in San Jose than the national average. Renting isn’t much better. The median rent in San Jose is $3,440 — more than twice the national median rent, according to Zillow.

Meanwhile, teacher pay went down nationally. The average weekly pay of public school teachers dropped $27 between 1996 and 2017, from $1,164 to $1,137, according to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, Market Watch reported.

Teachers are taken aback by the fierce opposition to the proposal to turn aging San Jose schools into affordable housing, ABC7News reported.

“We are really nice neighbors if you’ve ever met a teacher,” said Kristen Bernhardt, a fourth-grade teacher with the San Jose Unified School District,

A former high school football coach, Mike Carrozzo told the Mercury News that the proposal is ridiculous. “You’re going to build low-income housing in one of the more prosperous areas in the Bay Area, which also happens to be the furthest corner of the district for district teachers. It’s crazy.”

San Jose Unified Deputy Superintendent Stephen McMahon is looking down the road 10 years, after a proposed new Google development is built downtown and housing prices become even more out-of-reach on a teacher’s salary.

“Where are they going to live?” McMahon asked.

The school district identified eight potential school sites with aging buildings and declining enrollment as ideal residential sites.

Some affordable housing advocates opposition is a “not-in-my-backyard” or NIMBY attitude that often derail plans to build low-income homes throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Unless San Jose becomes more affordable for teachers, the quality of the community’s schools is going to decline, McMahon said. “There’s a lot of voices in this community. We want to make sure we hear from as many of them as we can.”