Education workforce housing can reduce teacher shortages, suggests new report

Many of California’s public school teachers cannot afford to live in the communities where they work, forcing them to commute long distances or pushing them out of the education system altogether. As districts attempt to recruit and retain teachers amid skyrocketing housing costs, some local educational agencies have begun seeking to take advantage of the Teacher Housing Act of 2016, which authorizes LEAs to pursue affordable housing for employees by leveraging a range of programs and fiscal resources available to other housing developers.

A new report 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 be implemented — including examples from districts already doing this work — and recommendations to advance housing solutions on land currently owned by LEAs.

“Teacher quality has the greatest impact on student achievement of any on-campus factor, and support staff are essential to the proper functioning of schools,” said CSBA President Dr. Susan Heredia. “So, it’s essential that we pursue high-leverage measures to attract and retain an education workforce that can prepare our students for the challenges of college, career and community in the 21st century.”

This research effort, developed in collaboration with CSBA and funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), inventories tens of thousands of potential sites, shows a range of housing design strategies, and lays out a roadmap for school districts interested in exploring this transformative opportunity to enable more teachers and staff to live in the communities that they serve.

There are more than 7,000 properties with 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.

“Every county in California has LEA-owned land that is potentially developable, so education workforce housing could help meet the housing needs of public education employees across the entire state,” researchers state. “While our analysis reveals tremendous opportunity throughout California — especially in locales where LEA employees face housing affordability challenges — each property will require careful, on-the-ground assessment.”

In addition to providing recommendations for state policymakers to better facilitate the development of education workforce housing, the report includes several suggestions for LEAs:

  • Develop partnerships with the community before and throughout the process
  • Keep the process of site evaluation and selection transparent
  • Design solutions must be specific to the school, the site and the neighborhood
  • Prepare for a lengthy process; due diligence and project champions are key

Planning, designing and completing a workforce housing project successfully is an inherently complex process, but much of what makes education workforce housing development unique occurs in the ‘predevelopment’ stage where initial decisions about site, design, tenancy and financing are made, and where community engagement begins, according to the report. After predevelopment, subsequent phases follow relatively standard development, financing and construction practices.

As districts typically don’t have experience in housing development, partnership agreements can connect LEAs with experienced consultants, developers and financial professionals who provide technical expertise and guidance, as well as community engagement throughout the development process, which can increase chances of a project’s success.

Currently, only four education workforce housing developments have been completed statewide, and all were undertaken by just two LEAs: Los Angeles Unified School District and Santa Clara USD. But early efforts are already paying off — Santa Clara USD’s Casa del Maestro reduced its attrition rate by two-thirds for teachers supported by the housing development compared with others in the same cohort — and interest is growing.

Between June 2018 and November 2020, eight California LEAs put propositions or measures before local voters to fund education workforce housing development. Six of the measures passed. “Our statewide scan of LEAs finds that many more are likely to follow suit,” researchers wrote. “We identified 46 LEAs pursuing projects on 83 sites that stand at various stages of completion, ranging from a public expression of interest in education workforce housing to completed and occupied developments. These LEAs face greater teacher recruitment and housing affordability challenges compared to others in the state and are leading the way.”

CSBA provided researchers valuable insights and advice included in the report, which was funded by CZI. Moving forward, CSBA will host a technical assistance workshop series with a handful of districts to help them with education workforce housing projects, and standup a statewide resource library with this latest research and handbook, as well as templates, documentation and other tools for interested districts.

Find the report, as well as the companion guide, Education Workforce Housing Handbook, at 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.