The first faculty and staff began moving into the new Jefferson Union High School District workforce housing last weekend, culminating five years of planning and construction. The property is one of the first in the state to offer affordable housing in an effort to retain and recruit school district staff.
Ronald Garcia, head mechanic for the district’s vehicle fleet, was all smiles as he became the first new resident. After putting his belongings into his apartment, he stayed in the lobby to greet arriving colleagues and help them carry their loads. Garcia and his family will live in a three-bedroom apartment for about $2,500 per month. They had been living in a cramped in-law unit not far from the new building and were thrilled with the spaciousness of their new home.
“Wow, we really did it,” was the reaction from Andrew Lie, vice president of the district board of trustees, as he watched Garcia and others arrive at their new residences.
Courtney Fil, activities director at Terra Nova High School, pulled up with three friends in a moving van. As they unloaded boxes she talked about the challenge of finding affordable housing near the school.
A Terra Nova graduate herself, Fil is the sort of person who often cannot return to her alma mater due to the high cost of living. After attending high school in Pacifica, she went on to earn degrees at College of San Mateo and Sonoma State before coming back to Terra Nova to organize events and teach leadership skills. She and her golden retriever Panini are thrilled to have a unit in the new building.
Garcia and Fil are two of 18 tenants who took keys to apartments at 705 Serramonte Blvd. over the weekend. Many more will follow in the coming weeks. Over 100 units have already been assigned in the 122-unit building after 145 staff expressed interest in the residence. At least five units will be held vacant and used to help recruit new teachers to the district.
In 2017 the high school district began discussing ways to retain and recruit staff. With the high cost of housing in the area and salaries that are about two-thirds of those in neighboring San Mateo Union High School District, Jefferson Union has experienced staff turnover rates around 25 percent each year.
A plan to address the issue, launched five years ago, included proposing a bond to fund affordable staff housing. Voters approved the bond through Measure J in June 2018, providing $33 million toward the $75 million housing project on a large parcel known as Serramonte del Rey surrounding the district headquarters. When at full occupancy the facility is projected to be cost neutral for the district.
In 2020 the board of trustees established the Educational Housing Corporation, an independent nonprofit organization that will oversee management of the property. The EHC subsequently engaged BLVD Residential, a company based in Menlo Park, to manage day-to-day operations at the site.
Offering subsidized housing turns out to be a more viable approach to staff retention than offering raises because bond funds cannot be used for salaries, and state and local funding for the school district remains lower than it is in surrounding areas.
In addition to affordable rents, the new facility offers a number of amenities that will enhance quality of life for the employees. The building features laundry rooms on each floor, a fitness center and a courtyard with playgrounds. There are several common rooms for relaxation and collaborative work. During move-in one teacher commented that she and her colleagues could work on lesson planning there.
The district continues to explore building a second apartment complex at the Serramonte del Rey site that would generate income by offering market-rate units.
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the staff housing will take place on May 13 and also mark the 100th anniversary of the district.
This version corrects the funding mechanism to reflect the bond sale.