Town Hall addresses teacher housing as development grows in Peninsula

Nick Abraham, Opinion Editor

With boarded up windows downtown, vacant buildings and empty streets, Redwood City earned the nickname “Deadwood City” for years.

Today, the city has taken a 180-degree turn. The development of the Downtown Precise Plan in 2016 brought the construction of more apartment complexes, the addition of retail space and fine dining, and has attracted a large number of tech companies such as Box and Shazam to bring operations to Redwood City.

With this came the inevitable rise in housing value and rent.  According to RentJungle, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Redwood City is about $3,000. According to Zillow, the median home value in Redwood City has more than doubled in the past 10 years, going from $767,000 to $1.63 million. For many teachers, this means having to spend more than half of their income on rent and being unable to save for a down payment on a house with such an unpredictable housing market.

Teacher salaries in the Sequoia Union High School District (SUHSD) are high compared to other Bay Area school districts, according to an analysis by EdSource. However, the discrepancies between teachers’ and tech workers’ salaries remain drastic. According to Glassdoor, the average total pay for a software engineer at Facebook is approximately $125,000. Meanwhile, the highest salary possible for a teacher in SUHSD is $119,950; the districts’ starting salary is $64,800, and the average experienced teacher salary is a little under $100,000.

A town hall in Sequoia’s Multi-Purpose Room (MPR) on Feb. 13 highlighted the various struggles teachers have endured in continuing their jobs while also being able to afford housing in the Bay Area. Among teachers that told their stories were many from Sequoia, including English teacher Jose Rosario, as well as Edith Salvatore, Spanish teacher and president of Sequoia District Teachers’ Association (SDTA), the district’s teachers’ union.

Rosario has been vocal about his experience with housing since soon after he started teaching at Sequoia in 2013. He has lived in his studio apartment in Mountain View during that time, and a combination of high cost of living and $60,000 in student debt led him to pick up jobs on the side such as working as property manager for his building, teaching after school and over the summer, and driving for Uber.

“I’m tired and it’s not sustainable,” Rosario said at the town hall. “I desperately want to
stay around all of the wonderful professionals in this area who want to do right by kids, but what I want is inconsistent with my need, and I need to leave.”

Salvatore’s story is multifaceted. Her parents, two former San Francisco public school teachers, were able to help her and her brother with a down payment on a house in the city after selling her grandmother’s house. While she is grateful to be able to live in the Bay Area, Salvatore struggles with the commute, which takes up two hours of her day, leaving her little time to spend with her family.

“I’m incredibly lucky that my parents started teaching in 1968 and purchased a home early, but if it weren’t for that there’s probably no way I could have stayed and raised my family in the area,” Salvatore said. “I couldn’t even think of looking at houses near my school because they were more expensive than buying a house in San Francisco.”

Salvatore was part of a panel at the town hall that included Armando Sanchez, executive director of Housing Endowment and Regional Trust of San Mateo County (HEART), Maya Perkins, strategic initiatives manager at Facebook, and Sarah Chaffin, founder of Support Teacher Housing. The panel was moderated by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller.

After hearing teachers’ stories, the panel elaborated on potential solutions to this housing crisis, such as buying underutilized public land and using money from various government agencies to subsidize housing on this land.

“If we’re going to get this done, it’s going to require a range of approaches,” Simitian said.

Perkins highlighted the role of the corporate sector in creating dedicated affordable housing
for teachers. In 2016, Facebook committed $18.5 million to the Catalyst Housing Fund, which supports affordable housing.

“There’s actually been a real ground swell of desire from the corporate sector to partner with folks to create affordable housing for everybody,” Perkins said.

See my take on this story here.