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San Francisco Mayor Commits $44 Million for Teacher Housing

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee recently announced that he plans to use $44 million in city money to pay for the construction of up to 150 affordable rental units for teachers.

As we've reported in Education Week, initiatives to provide affordable housing options to teachers are neither new nor uncommon, with districts ranging from Santa Clara, Calif., to Hertford County, N.C., currently offering such programs. But San Francisco, home to the highest rental rates in the country, has had trouble getting its affordable teacher housing project off the ground.

The mayor's decision was prompted by a column in the San Francisco Chronicle about a homeless high school math teacher who couldn't find affordable housing in the city on her $65,000 yearly salary, according to the newspaper. The teacher has since resigned.

"I am disturbed as anyone to have a teacher who's homeless," the mayor told the Chronicle. "There is a level of frustration I have with the current conversation of the (teacher housing) working group. We have an immediate problem right now."

The "working group" the mayor refers to was tasked in 2014 with finding a way to build teacher housing, but has made little progress. The group is made up of representatives from the school district, the teachers' union, and the Mayor's Office of Housing.

The Chronicle reports that novice San Francisco teachers shell out 51 percent of their salary before taxes just to share a two-bedroom apartment. A teacher in her fifth year on the job would have to give up 69 percent of her salary to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

To make ends meet, according to the Chronicle, teachers are paying to rent out people's dining rooms, taking on jobs like driving for Uber when the school day ends, or commuting long hours in order to land an affordable rent. They won't find any relief just yet as the apartments for teachers aren't expected to be available until 2022 at the earliest.

The district owns the site where the future teacher housing will be built, reports the Chronicle. The developer would only own the building that houses the teacher apartments and pay the district to lease the land. The $44 million will be used to prepare the land, where a run-down, 100-year-old building must first be bulldozed, for development. But before any construction can begin, the project must be approved by the school district and its board of education.

In the meantime, the teacher housing working group must figure out some logistics like how teachers will qualify for a rental, and what will happen if a teacher resident ends up leaving the profession. The Los Angeles Unified School District's teacher housing project ran into major hiccups  because officials involved didn't think through teachers' qualifications for the units. The first development opened in 2015, but income restrictions, a condition of federal tax breaks for building affordable housing, disqualified LAUSD teachers for the district-sponsored housing because they made too much money. The loss for teachers, however, became a boon for lower-paid school workers, including cafeteria workers and bus drivers, who now rent the apartments.

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