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Teachers vie for prized housing spots on district land

The Associated Press
Friday June 22, 2001

SANTA CLARA — Forty teachers in one of the nation’s tightest housing markets won coveted spots Thursday in inexpensive apartments being built on school district property as part of a program believed to be the first of its kind anywhere. 

About 85 Santa Clara teachers entered the lottery for the new apartments in “Casa del Maestro” – Home of the Teacher. It is expected to open next spring with rents about one-half the market rate. 

School district officials hope it helps them retain new teachers, who are increasingly fleeing Silicon Valley’s exorbitant cost of living after a few years. 

A local disc jockey plucked the lucky teachers’ names from a plastic bin in a stuffy room at an elementary school, where the apartments are being built on the edge of a soccer field. Besides the 40 winners, 20 teachers were placed on a waiting list. 

Most of the winners were not at the ceremony because this is the break between the regular school year and summer school. But those attending were delighted when their names were called, while their fellow teachers applauded. 

First-grade teacher Aimee Brinks hugged the superintendent. Toby Stack, who starts teaching fifth grade in the fall, pumped his fist and grinned. 

Stack, 24, moved to Santa Clara from Missoula, Mont., last week and has been sleeping on a friend’s couch. Now he has his eye on a 1,200-square foot, two-bedroom apartment with a den, deck, washer and dryer that will cost around $1,200 a month. 

“Now I can make a commitment to the district and these kids,” he said. When asked what he would have done if he hadn’t won the lottery, he said: “Struggle like the rest of them. Try as hard as I can to get by, and if it doesn’t work, I’d probably leave like the rest of them.” 

The downturn in the technology economy has softened the real estate market in Santa Clara County somewhat, but the median price of a single-family home in May still was $561,350, according to the Santa Clara County Association of Realtors. That’s up from $525,000 last year. 

Apartment rents in the county have dropped as much as 20 percent from their peak prices last fall, said Alan Pontius, senior vice president at Marcus & Millichap, a real estate investment company.  

But that follows a 30 percent rise at the height of the Internet boom, and the market remains relatively tight, he said. 

That situation is becoming a crisis for schools. 

In the Santa Clara Unified School District, which has about 850 teachers and 15,000 students, teachers earn between $41,000 and $75,000 a year. Those who leave their jobs very often cite the area’s cost of living as the reason, Superintendent Paul Perotti said. 

To fight the problem, the district tapped funds left over from the sale of schools that closed long ago. The $6 million Casa del Maestro is being built at a school the district owns but leases to a private school. 

A nonprofit organization set up by the district is overseeing the project, and a private company will manage the apartments – so school administrators can stay out of the landlord business. 

The lottery for Casa del Maestro was limited to teachers with less than three years of experience in the district, but they will be able to stay as long as they remain teachers at a Santa Clara public school. Spouses are welcome, of course, as long as the couple’s combined income does not exceed $136,000. 

While other districts have helped subsidize homes for teachers, no other public school system has built teacher housing on its property, according to Lawrence D. Carr, director of education for the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group, which helped plan the project. 


American Federation of Teachers spokeswoman Janet Bass also said she had not heard of another program like this one. A similar project proposed at a San Francisco school last year never materialized. 

Before the lottery began, special-education teacher Christine Williams said an apartment in Casa del Maestro would help her save for her daughter’s college education. For now, they live with two other teachers in a four-bedroom apartment in Los Gatos that rents for a total $2,200 a month, but they’re forced to move because one roommate is leaving the area. 

“You’d think a teacher could be able to find a house — not Beverly Hills, of course,” Williams said with a laugh. “Prices haven’t come down as much as I thought they would.” 

As the winning names were announced, Williams sat by herself on a metal folding chair, looking anxious. But her name was never called, and she left out a back door without saying a word. 


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