Districts can now begin efforts to build education workforce housing with less red tape

Survey after survey, study after study, lack of affordable housing close to the campuses in which they work continues to be one of the most cited reasons for why teachers and other school employees leave their positions or the education field entirely.

This presents a significant problem as districts attempt to recruit and retain teachers to best support children still recovering academically following pandemic school closures.

“Even prior to the pandemic, we saw accelerating housing costs … and so we’ve seen a lot of our educational workforce moving farther and farther away, not being able to live in the communities in which they teach, and so this is where districts are really starting to look at producing education workforce housing on their own property,” CSBA Legislative Director Chris Reefe said during a Sept. 27 webinar hosted by SPUR, the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. “We’re in a situation where we’re facing fairly dire straits with our teacher shortage and staffing shortage across the state. Many school districts are pursuing this option not as a matter of want but a matter of need.”

The webinar highlighted Assembly Bill 2295 (Bloom, D-Santa Monica), a CSBA-sponsored bill that would remove bureaucratic hurdles and increase incentives for districts to develop education workforce housing on vacant school property, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom as part of a package of housing bills on Sept. 28.

A report released earlier this year from the University of California, Los Angeles’ cityLAB, UC Berkeley’s Center for Cities + Schools and Terner Center for Housing Innovation, Education Workforce Housing in California: Developing the 21st Century Campus, provides an extensive review of the need for public education workforce housing solutions, where and how some strategies can — and in some districts are already — being implemented, and recommendations to advance housing solutions on land currently owned by local educational agencies.

The report, developed in collaboration with CSBA and funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, inventoried tens of thousands of potential sites, showing a range of housing design strategies, and laying out a roadmap for school districts interested in exploring this transformative opportunity to enable more teachers and staff to live in the communities they serve. More than 7,000 properties have potentially developable land of one acre or more, totaling 75,000 acres statewide, according to the report. About 60 percent of the properties are located where beginning teachers face housing affordability challenges, and more than 40 percent are located in areas that are likely to be competitive for key affordable housing financing tools.

While financing such projects is a challenge, many districts struggle to get housing development plans off the ground due to the red tape. A product of this research, AB 2295 seeks to address the fact that, on most LEA property, housing is not a permissible use and that these properties have no applicable development standards for housing. The bill permits housing on school property and makes development of housing subject to objective affordability, occupancy and other criteria outlined here, rather than subjective development standards imposed by the city or county. This ensures that local building requirements apply and that the design blends with that of the surrounding community.

The bill also:

  • Requires any use of existing vacant or unused LEA property for education workforce housing be first offered to LEA employees and that a majority of the units be affordable to low- and middle-income households, with 30 percent reserved for low-income households.
  • Exempts the property from being subject to the Field Act, the Sale of Surplus Government Property and Sale or Rent of School Property requirements.

“Teacher retention and school employee retention is a critical issue. There just isn’t enough housing to house the teachers that we need, so a lot of teachers are leaving the profession to pursue other opportunities where they can make more money,” said Assemblymember Richard Bloom. “We really have to match that need with the opportunity that is pointed out in the report — the opportunity being all these surplus, unused sites around the state that are owned by school districts that can become part of the solution.”

Dana Cuff, cityLAB director, noted that the bill will not go into effect until a year after it is signed, so districts should begin developing partnerships and plans that will allow them to hit the ground running.

“Partnerships have been crucial. Housing is one of the most complicated sites of production and politics that we could imagine … and to have a working collection of educators, politicians and planners has been essential to making this work,” Cuff said. “[Now] is a really important time for LEAs to get their ducks in a row so that the minute that legislation becomes available they can start acting on it.”

The full report, as well as the companion guide, Education Workforce Housing Handbook, can be found at www.csba.org/workforcehousing. The handbook provides school boards, administrators and community members with an understanding of how housing gets built, strategies for overcoming challenges to building, and frameworks for ensuring housing meets the specific needs of each LEA.

The summer issue of CSBA’s magazine, California Schools, features additional interviews on the subject, including with the latest district to successfully open a housing project, Jefferson Union High School District in the Bay Area.