With the tossing of ceremonial shovelsful of dirt, an educator housing project more than five years in the making officially broke ground in Palo Alto on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
First proposed by Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian in January 2018, 110 apartments reserved for teachers and other school staff from multiple school districts are now expected to be completed in the summer of 2025.
Local elected officials, school district leaders, representatives from the developers working on the project and others gathered on Tuesday, Aug. 22, for a ceremony at the site, located at 231 Grant Ave., across the street from the Palo Alto Courthouse.
The county office building that formerly occupied the property has been demolished and the land sits empty, ready for construction to commence.
Simitian told the crowd at the event that the beneficiaries of the project won't just be the educators who will live in the units; students will benefit by getting more time to interact with their teachers, who won't be enduring multi-hour commutes each day.
"In ways that we can only just imagine today, it isn't about a hundred units," Simitian said. "It's about the opportunity to be there for kids who so urgently need that time and attention."
The apartments will be a mix of studios, one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms and will be offered at rents that are affordable for school employees making 60-140% of the area median income, according to a press release from Santa Clara County and the pair of nonprofit developers that are working on the project: Mercy Housing and Abode Communities.
The Palo Alto Unified, Mountain View Whisman and Los Altos school districts are participating, as well as the Foothill-De Anza Community College District.
Some south San Mateo County districts, including the Ravenswood City School District, are also eligible to take part in the project as a result of a $25 million grant from Meta, the tech company formerly known as Facebook.
The Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District (MVLA) originally expressed interest in the project but decided earlier this year not to take part, citing the conditions of participation and the district's comparatively stronger funding situation, according to a February letter that Superintendent Nellie Meyer sent to the county and developers.
Depending on education and longevity, teachers in the high school district make between roughly $102,000 and $193,000, according to a salary schedule posted online.
As a result of MVLA leaving the project, the Los Altos School District picked up the 12 units that the high school district would have received, for a total of 24 units.
Mountain View Whisman and Foothill-De Anza will each get 12, while Palo Alto Unified will have access to 29. The districts each paid $50,000 per unit.
Meta's contribution meant that another 32 apartments are being set aside for south San Mateo County districts. The final apartment will be saved for a property manager.
The project is being funded through a variety of sources. In addition to the money from the school districts and Meta, Santa Clara County donated the land and contributed additional funds and the city of Palo Alto donated money. The San Francisco Housing Accelerator Fund and Century Housing Corporation are also providing financing.
With construction currently expected to be completed in the summer of 2025, Simitian told this news organization that the plan is to begin the leasing process in the spring of that year so that staff can hopefully move into their new homes in time for the 2025-26 school year.
Los Altos teachers' union president and sixth grade teacher Chris Hazelton spoke at Tuesday's ceremony about the impact that the project will have on his colleagues.
When Hazelton and his husband were starting out as teachers, they both worked two jobs to be able to afford to live in the area. He argued that providing affordable housing will help local districts attract and retain qualified teachers.
"By making this investment in housing for educators, our community is showing how valuable these essential workers are," Hazelton said.