Op-ed: Keeping our teachers close to home

In a housing affordability crisis such as the one settling in on the greater Bay Area, we immediately think of the very poor and the chronically homeless. And rightly so. Their needs are immediate and tangible. The City Council has recently spent countless hours trying to grapple with the crisis, culminating in the unanimous approval of a suite of initiatives at the end of May (view the housing items). Among them is my Workforce Housing Affordability Plan, co-authored by councilmembers Lori Droste and Daryl Moore.

Though we have prioritized housing for those who have none, and for those who are in danger of losing theirs, the crisis is now also seriously affecting middle-income workers in our community. Anecdotally we hear that more and more people who work in Berkeley and San Francisco are forced to live in the greater East Bay, and many as far out as the Central Valley. These workers not only face horrendous commutes that disrupt their personal lives, their vehicles fill up our freeways and surface streets, and they become increasingly disconnected from the fabric of our community. The disenfranchisement of one group of workers – our school teachers – could have terrible impacts for our kids.

When our teachers can’t afford to live in the city in which they work — or even near it – they have less time and energy to be part of our community. When teachers can’t manage their rent and other expenses based on their salaries, they are in danger of leaving our district. (This has already happened.) And when our district loses the ability to attract a diverse pool of bright, young, talented new teachers because they cannot afford to live here, our school system and our kids lose out. Berkeley schools provide a quality education that will be sustained only by maintaining and attracting quality teachers and staff.

This is why I have introduced an item, Workforce Housing for Berkeley Unified School District Personnel, for the June 14 Council meeting. This item asks the city manager to explore the feasibility of developing below market housing for BUSD employees in a collaborative effort between the school district and the city.


Neighboring jurisdictions can help guide us: Oakland and San Francisco are already exploring workforce housing for teachers. Santa Clara Unified built two different complexes years ago. UC Berkeley constructed housing in Berkeley for faculty and staff many years ago, and continues to maintain them as affordable opportunities for their employees.

Despite the many moving parts to a collaborative project of this magnitude, my initial conversations with BUSD board members have been enthusiastic. Given current Council and community conversations about housing and affordability the time is right to push our ideas even further to support our teachers, our schools and our children.

In November, Berkeley voters will be asked again to support the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program (BSEP) arguably the most effective and consistent way Berkeley citizens have supported their schools since the mid 1980s. Providing reasonable housing opportunities for our teachers and support staff is the next step in ensuring a great education for our kids, and reflects how much our community values quality education.

Read the June 14 agenda. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and can also be watched on Berkeley’s cable station 33.

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Laurie Capitelli is city councilman for Berkeley's District 5 and is running for mayor in the November elections.