A proposed affordable-housing project in Palo Alto exclusively for teachers across five North County school districts gained momentum on Tuesday when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a developer to make the plan a reality.
Mercy Housing Management Group stood out from a pool of four applicants vying for the 60- to 120-unit project at 231 Grant Ave., a county-owned site across the street from the Palo Alto Courthouse. The board cast a 5-0 vote on Tuesday to have the nonprofit design and develop the facility.
The project would provide homes for teachers across the Palo Alto Unified School District, Mountain View Whisman School District, Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, Los Altos School District and Foothill-De Anza Community College District.
First proposed by Santa Clara County Board President Joe Simitian in January 2018, the estimated $36 million project has gained financial support from the board ($6 million), Palo Alto City Council ($3 million) and the five school districts (each district has committed $600,000 for the development for a total $3 million contribution).
The remaining $24 million could be paid off through low- or no-interest loans, possibly from rent charged to the school employees.
"Now it's real," Simitian said in a press release issued Tuesday. "We have a site. We have some initial funding. We have interest from local school districts. And now we have an experienced development partner to help us organize and build the project."
The development seeks to alleviate the housing challenges faced by school employees, especially those starting or in the middle of their careers, according to Simitian's office. This group is known as the "missing middle," because they can't afford market-rate housing and don't qualify for affordable homes.
The region's housing crisis, in turn, has affected school districts that watch teachers move away due to the high costs. In some cases, teachers endure far commutes due to the high housing costs in or near their districts.
"Time in the car is time not spent with students or preparing lesson plans. And our teachers become more and more remote from the communities where they teach," Simitian said in the press release.
As plans come together for the 1.5-acre property, the involved parties will finalize how many units will be built, according to Simitian. The supervisor previously said that each unit may cost about $500,000 to $600,000 to build. Community services currently housed in the Grant Avenue building may remain on-site at the ground level or moved to another location.
Mercy Housing Management Group is made up of Mercy Housing (based Denver, Colorado) and Abode Communities (based in Los Angeles), which were recommended to develop the site. Abode Communities has experience in bringing workforce teacher housing off the ground.
Abode Communities was the developer behind the 66-unit Selma Community Housing in Hollywood that opened in 2016. A blog post published by the organization at the time said 68% of the homes are leased to employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District. A spokesperson for Abode Communities said Friday that district employees are given 50% leasing preference.
The Palo Alto project isn't the only housing development with dedicated space for teachers in the works on the Midpeninsula. Last year, the Mountain View City Council and Mountain View Whisman School District approved a 716-unit apartment complex at 777 W. Middlefield Road, with 144 units set aside for teachers, school staff and city employees.
Mountain View Voice staff writer Kevin Forestieri contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This story incorrectly stated that Mercy Housing was working with Fremont-based Abode Services on the project and the name of one of the organization's affiliates, Abode Communities. Palo Alto Online regrets the errors.