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Comprehensive Research Report Guides California School Districts in Building Affordable Workforce Housing

MBEP encourages more local educational agencies in our region to explore education housing options to address community needs.

In Monterey County, based on the median asking rent, 89 percent of rental housing is unaffordable for an entry-level teacher. And in Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, those figures stand at 100 percent.

Yet in all three counties, potentially developable acres and properties already owned by school districts— from unused fields and former school campuses to maintenance yards and remote parking lots — could be developed into teacher housing, according to a new report. That underutilized potential could help stem the exodus of public school teachers, whose salaries haven’t kept up with soaring housing costs across California, directly impacting student outcomes in districts with costly housing, high turnover rates, and underqualified teachers.

According to “Education Workforce Housing in California: Developing the 21st Century Campus,” more than one-third of all public school employees who rent are housing cost-burdened, yet there are nearly 151,500 acres of land owned by California local educational agencies (LEAs), and 7,068 properties with potentially developable land of one acre or more, totaling 75,000 acres statewide. More than half (61 percent) of those properties are located where entry-level teachers face housing affordability challenges, according to the report that examines the potential for developing employee housing on LEA-owned land in California. Significantly, it’s the first research report to create a comprehensive database of land owned by LEAs across the state and to engage in a robust, data-based review of California’s LEA-led housing initiatives. The research effort, developed in collaboration with the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), inventories tens of thousands of potential sites, shows a range of housing design strategies, and lays out a roadmap for school districts interested in exploring workforce housing.

According to the report data, there are 111 potentially developable properties and a total of 1,090 potentially developable acres in Monterey County; 16 potentially developable properties and a total of 240 potentially developable acres in San Benito County; and 46 potentially developable properties and 507 potentially developable acres in Santa Cruz County.

“School districts have a unique advantage in developing housing because they already own land in the communities they serve. The key is to look at where there might be opportunities to develop underutilized land or otherwise reconfigure uses on their properties. It’s about getting strategic and getting creative,” said Jeff Vincent, co-founder of UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities+ Schools, which collaborated on the report with cityLAB at the University of California, Los Angeles and the Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

While California is home to just four completed education workforce housing developments undertaken by two LEAs, interest in pursuing workforce housing strategies is clearly growing as more LEAs take steps to build such housing developments. Between June 2018 and November 2020, eight California LEAs put propositions or measures before local voters to fund education workforce housing development. Six of those passed, including a $13.5 million bond measure to construct teacher-staff rental housing in Soledad Unified School District.

At least 46 LEAs across the state are currently pursuing projects on 83 sites that stand at various stages of completion, ranging from a public expression of interest in education workforce housing to completed and occupied developments. Among those is Monterey Peninsula Unified School District.

For LEAs interested in pursuing education workforce housing development, it can be daunting to know where to begin. The report makes recommendations for state policy reforms to encourage education workforce housing and is accompanied by an illustrated Handbook that provides a how-to guide for school boards, administrators and community members to advocate for and advance the development of education workforce housing on underutilized schools lands in communities across California.

See the report and the companion handbook on CSBA’s Government and Policy Resources online hub.

Pictured, only four education workforce housing projects have been completed in California, although interest is rising.