After voters greenlighted the effort by approving Measures K and L last fall, Santa Cruz City Schools is moving ahead on building 80 units district staff can rent at 60 to 70% of market rent.
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In as soon as three years, some Santa Cruz City Schools staff and teachers could find themselves in district-owned workforce housing — and paying just 60 to 70% of market rent.
The district was given the green light in November to move forward with the project after voters approved Measures K and L, which directs $371 million toward upgrading the district’s elementary, middle and high schools.
As much as $37 million of the money raised could go toward building about 80 units of rental housing for district staff and teachers. District spokesperson Sam Rolens said the rest of the project total — which he didn’t have finalized — would be financed with loans.
The project will be located on the Westside on a parcel of land off of Swift Street — near the old Natural Bridges Elementary School campus.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Rolens. “This has been a high priority for the superintendent for the better part of a decade.”
Rolens said housing has been the most significant barrier to staff retention for the district for the past decade: Santa Cruz City Schools has lost 100 teachers since 2014 due to the cost of living.
“We tend to be very good at recruiting because this is a nice place to live and our salaries are competitive compared to other school districts,” he said. “But our retention has not been good, because it’s just incredibly difficult to stay and live in Santa Cruz.”
He said the district is still finalizing essential details of the project — so total cost estimates, rental rates and the number and type of units aren’t set in stone yet.
For example, the district conducted a survey of the kinds of units teachers and staff would want. The results of the survey showed that the district might have fewer studio and one-bedroom options because two-bedroom and three-bedroom units are more appealing to the district’s workforce than previously thought, according to Rolens.
If more applicants seek housing than there are units available, Rolens said the district is considering using a lottery.
The district is also looking into partnering with local agencies to provide consultation services to employees living in the units to direct money workers are able to save from paying below-market rents toward a down payment on a house — a service the district has already provided.
Employees would enter into rental agreements for up to seven years, for example, with the hopes that they could find permanent housing by that time. If not, Rolens said, the district wants to be flexible and ensure that people have a place to stay.
“I don’t think that we’re looking at something that’s going to be set in stone either way,” he said. “If someone still has trouble finding a place to live, there would be a lot of flexibility to make sure people have housing.”
Rolens pointed to two Bay Area school districts that recently opened or broke ground on workforce housing projects as being influential to his district’s proposal.
Jefferson Union High School District, located in Daly City, opened its 122-unit workforce housing project in May, while San Francisco Unified School District broke ground on a 135-unit project in September.
Jefferson Union funded its housing project by a $33 million general-obligation bond. After the district’s voters approved the measure in 2018, the district submitted development applications that September, construction began in 2020 and teachers moved in last spring. Rolens said this timeline made the district an inspiration for Santa Cruz City Schools.
Similarly, he said, other local school districts such as Live Oak Unified have reached out to SCCS to ask about the process.
“Since the moment our bond passed, we’ve gotten a lot of interest from other school districts who are doing the same research and are deciding whether or not to put this on their future calendars,” he said.
The district is currently working with 19six Architects on preliminary plans for the project and is also in discussions with neighbors of the property to consult on how to best accommodate the neighbors’ needs with those of the area’s future tenants.
For example, to alleviate traffic, the district is considering having a one-way entrance into the complex and a one-way exit. The district has yet to seek bids for a contractor to produce the project’s final plans.
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this story included an image that incorrectly mapped the proposed site of Santa Cruz City Schools’ workforce housing project. It is to the north of Gateway School.