Author: Brian K. Miller

SANTA CLARA, CA- The Santa Clara Unified School District says it will develop additional affordable housing for teachers this year after finding that its first project — the first faculty housing community built for a public school district in the state — has reduced the number of teachers leaving the district for more affordable communities. District officials said this week they will break ground on June 4 for a 30-unit project at 3455 Lochivar Ave. that is expected to cost several million dollars to complete.

The workforce housing project is called Casa del Maestro, maestro being the Spanish word for teacher. The first phase, a $6-million, 40-unit building was completed in 2002. The District structured a tax-exempt financing instrument that allowed the project to be built and operated at no cost to taxpayers while maximizing the affordability of the units for teachers.

In the five years prior to its completion, high housing costs in the area helped increase the attrition rate of teachers in the District by 300%. In the five years after the first phase of Casa del Maestro was completed, the attrition rate for young teachers living in the district has been less than one-third of that for the District’s teachers with similar tenure not receiving this benefit, according to the District. Additional study results have shown that the reduced rental rates also have helped residents save enough money to buy homes in the area with the aid of the District’s Teacher Mortgage Assistance Program.

“Due to the success of Casa del Maestro, over two dozen school districts throughout California are considering similar initiatives based on this prototype,” says Bruce Dorfman, co-founder of Mill Valley, CA-based Thompson Dorfman Partners LLC, whose non-profit affiliate Education Housing Partners designed and built the first phase and will do the same for the second phase.

Between the first two phases of Casa del Maestro, Education Housing Partners was retained by the San Mateo County Community College District to design and build a similar project. The 44-unit, two-building, Craftsman-style development is located on a former overflow parking lot behind the District’s Administrative Building at its College of San Mateo campus. The project won an award for “best affordable housing project” in 2006 from Builder magazine.

The second phase of Casa del Maestro will add 30 additional employee-dedicated residences to the 40 units already in place in the community. The housing mix will include 24 one-bedroom, one-bath units (some with dens) ranging from 700 to 1,030 sf; and six two-bedroom, two-bath units averaging 1,122 sf. The second phase of Casa del Maestro is slated for completion in mid-2009.

To finance the first phase of the project, the District identified surplus school-owned property to site the project and used their municipal financing power to issue certificates of participation–similar to state revenue bonds–to provide long term financing. The district then repays the COPs as well as operating expenses, inclusive of a capital reserve, from rents collected from its teachers.

Teachers are allowed to live in the complex for up to five years during which time they are encouraged to save money required to put towards owning a home of their own. The District says a recent study found that while teacher attrition has been high teachers who were able to obtain a unit at Casa del Maestro have remained living and working in the District, and that two-dozen teachers have now purchased permanent residences in the county.