Opinion: Berkeley should build housing for teachers – it’s an investment in our future

State legislation provides tools that make teacher housing on BUSD property more affordable.

Educator workforce housing is an economically efficient part of our housing solutions. Other solutions for other parts of the problem need to continue as well, but we need to take advantage of the special tools which lever educator housing.

  • As well documented in Berkeleyside, our city lacks affordable housing and new development for persons with incomes from 60% to 120% of Area Median Income (AMI), the range of many of our educators.
  • Special state legislation provides tools to make educator specific housing on BUSD property at a reduced cost compared to more generalized solutions for all.
  • Measure O, listing educator housing as one of its goals, passed by about 76% vs. 24%, showing public support.
  • The mayor and City Council have stated that they want the most efficient (highest number of units per public dollar) housing projects to be prioritized.
  • Any housing developed helps.
  • Educators, (teachers and classified) represent a huge investment which can easily migrate away if their commutes are excessive or housing costs too burdensome.

I am a member of Behome Berkeley, a group of city residents who noticed how our neighborhood was becoming unaffordable for people exactly like us but who are at beginning points in their careers, such as teachers and staff. We saw diversity decreasing. We heard about the loss of educators at BUSD, where salaries are stagnant and the budget has had to be cut, making significant wage changes difficult.

Starting in 2016 with SB1413, the California legislature passed measures to support educators. SB1413 authorized the use of school district land for educator-specific housing. This allows the land to remain in the public domain, yet reduces project costs because land cost becomes negligible.

Educators would pay rent, allowing the remaining costs of development to be mostly financed. Other grants, bond money already available, specific tax incentives, and monies from agencies and other sources will cover most of the gap, thus minimizing the use of Berkeley city money and making the project produce lots of bang for the public buck.

BUSD wisely does not want to be a landlord. Third-party foundation/non-profit solutions are being used already by other districts in California and would be employed here. Some examples are in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties which already have completed educator housing projects.

Many new buildings in Berkeley have minimal parking provisions with the expectation that public transit and other options will reduce congestion and environmental loads. Educator housing will reduce tens of thousands of miles of commutes and the time away from families, the time unavailable for educator planning and development. Many of the newest teachers are living in the same situations they had in college and grad school, several roommates in one unit. As they become adult families they will be choosing where to work and live within their incomes.

At the April 10 School Board meeting, the public comments by the newer teachers in Berkeley spoke of their passion for teaching, for becoming better teachers and their commitment to their schools. But they also spoke of housing uncertainty which may cause them to leave as they grow in experience.  Likewise, the classified staff have their institutional knowledge and experience, which in BUSD is critical to assisting children with special needs, closing the achievement gap, maintaining clean and safe schools, and feeding children.

These educators reminded us of the training and coaching costs that BUSD invests in them. Those investments, that professionalism, are lost over and over and over again, and the people that suffer the most are the students – the future of this community. If we as a community value public education in Berkeley, the community needs to continue to say “Yes” to educator workforce housing as the likelihood comes nearer and the details develop.

More information is available at behomeberkeley.org which provides more depth and links to legislation, articles and statistics.

Bruce Bagnell, a member of BeHome Berkeley, is a 37-year resident of Berkeley and retired business manager.