Date: 09.26.2008
Publication: San Jose Bizjournal
Author: Sharon Simonson

Developer Bruce Dorfman says his Mill Valley company, Thompson/Dorfman Partners LLC, hasn’t made money building affordable apartments for the Santa Clara Unified School District in the past eight years.

The apartments are leased to new teachers at below-market rates as a part of a retention effort by the district to help teachers save enough money to eventually buy a Silicon Valley home.

Still, Dorfman says, the work has been worth it. The teachers who get the apartments are satisfied, and the program’s success gives hope that “hey system can work.”

“We really kind of get a ham sandwich out of it,” Dorfman says, “but on a personal level, the program has been incredibly rewarding.”

The district held a lottery Sept.22 to determine which of 78 eligible and desiring teachers would win one of the 30 apartments that Dorfman plans to finish early next summer. The first phase of the $12 million Casa del Maestro development, with 40 apartments, was completed in 2002.

The district has financed the construction using tax-exempt debt and cut costs by donating the land, Dorfman says. The teacher’s rent will repay the loans, operate the property and build a small reserve.

The mystery to Dorfman is why more school districts don’t follow Santa Clara’s lead. Over the years, his company had talked to dozens of school districts from across the country that face similar recruitment and retention problems. So far, he knows of only two, including Santa Clara, that have gone forward with a program. The second is the San Mateo County Community College District, where Dorfman is now doing his second housing project.