The Local Solutions in Action series highlights strategies for expanding housing options and increasing housing affordability. The focus is on land use, zoning, financial and other regulatory tools that are available to cities, counties and towns that can be used to meet the housing needs of their residents and workforce.
School District-Owned Land
Public land policies make government-owned land available at reduced or no cost for affordable or mixed-income housing. Often, this includes land owned by the municipal government, but in some cases, the local school district controls vacant or underutilized property that could be repurposed for housing. This asset can provide an important opportunity for making below-market-rate housing available to teachers and school support staff, allowing them to live in the community they serve.
There have been successful examples of old school buildings being converted into housing, sometimes housing designed specifically to serve school staff. There are communities across the country of public school buildings sitting empty as the number of families with children decreases. In 2014-2015, it was estimated that more than 1,500 public schools in the U.S. were closed down. While sometimes a sign of decline, these buildings could also provide an opportunity. For example, a school building Clendenin, West Virginia built in 1914 was abandon for years until the school district partnered with a developer to convert the building into housing. Other West Virginia communities are looking for ways to build teacher housing.
Rising housing costs in communities across the country are making the issue of teacher housing a front burner issue. High turnover and difficulty attracting teachers and other school staff are the primary drivers behind the push for more affordable teacher housing.
In 2016, the California Assembly adopted a bill requiring local agencies and school districts to prioritize surplus land for affordable housing. School districts were specifically directed in the legislation to partner with a qualified developer to develop housing specifically for teachers. But the implementation at the local level has not been smooth sailing.
The San Jose Unified School District has a plan to facilitate the development of teacher housing on school-owned land. Nine district-owned properties were identified as potential sites for housing targeting not only teachers, but also bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other school support personnel who do not earn enough to afford market-rate housing in San Jose. Despite general support for teacher housing, there has been vehement opposition to repurposing school buildings for housing.
Let us know if we can share additional information on local policies that support workforce housing options.