For teachers and staff at the Mountain View Whisman School District, the sunny climate in the San Francisco Bay Area is sublime. But the price of rent? Not so much. Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, our community is home to one-bedroom apartments that average $3,600 a month.
The steep cost of living is an equally steep hurdle for our educators and district staff.
Take Natalie Hillebrecht, a second -grade teacher who started in the district straight out of college. Her first several years of teaching entailed an hours-long daily commute and a house with four housemates.
Those early years of teaching can be taxing for any educator, as they were for me when I first started teaching. But the commute was an added drain for Natalie, and the constant back and forth during the week and on weekends was grueling. Natalie watched her peers—intelligent, creative and compassionate educators—leave for opportunities in less expensive communities.
Living arrangements like these seldom last. Young professionals start to think about financial security. Some want to start a family, and they need a home to make that life possible. Then, when the commute traffic picks up, or gas prices rise, teachers are compelled to ask: Is this worth it?
But Mountain View is nothing if not a community rooted in innovation. Like the Silicon Valley tech behemoths around us, our district and community leaders began to consider outside-the-box solutions.
One solution: pay teachers more. Starting in 2015, our district worked to close the financial gap for teachers and staff by increasing teachers’ salaries by 40 percent. But in high-rent communities like ours, even significant pay increases can do only so much.
Our district was forced to think long and hard, to ask: How do we fix this?
After much brainstorming, researching, and surveying district staff, we landed on an innovative solution—an affordable housing facility designed specifically for teachers and staff.
I, the board of trustees, and district staff planned. We researched. We developed public partnerships with the city and private partnerships with property and construction companies. We rallied the community and passed a bond to fund the project. We navigated challenges, like pandemic-related construction delays and materials shortages. Then in November 2022, we held a groundbreaking ceremony to celebrate the beginning of construction.
“This is going to be a game changer for the teachers and staff in Mountain View,” Natalie Hillebrecht said in her address at the ceremony.
Our facility opens to teachers in staff in 2025, offering studio, 1-, and 2-bedroom units at rents that could be one half of market prices. Residents will be able to collaborate with fellow educators and staff in the building’s common spaces, enjoy the local bike paths and—most of all—take root in the community they serve.
But our community is far from the only one that is struggling with teacher and staff shortages directly linked to high cost-of-living issues.
My district faces the same frustration as major population centers such as Atlanta, New York, and Houston. Housing options have to be part of the solution to filling the roughly 300,000 teacher and school staff vacancies nationwide.
To empower other education leaders with the lessons learned from Mountain View’s experience, we crafted a first-of-its-kind roadmap on affordable teacher and staff housing. The 28-page document lays out a step-by-step approach for district and community leaders who recognize housing affordability as a root cause of teacher and staff shortages.
From identifying the community’s need to selecting a funding pathway, and from building partnerships to celebrating milestones, the document walks leaders through the multi-phase process of developing affordable housing that can help attract and retain teachers and staff.
It’s a unique opportunity to welcome teachers and staff into the communities where they teach.
From Austin, Texas, to Bentonville, Arkansas, more communities across the country are developing or considering similar facilities. As nationwide teacher shortages persist, affordable housing may just offer the solution that some districts and communities so desperately need.
By Ayindé Rudolph, Ed.D., Superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District in Mountain View, Calif.
Mountain View Whisman School District has been a member of the League of Innovative Schools since 2022. More information about the district’s affordable staff housing project can be found at: https://www.mvwsd.org/housing.