‘This will be a game-changer’: Live Oak School District in very early planning stages for workforce housing

The site at 1777 Capitola Road owned by Live Oak School District
Live Oak School District officials are in the early stages of developing workforce housing at a site the district owns at 1777 Capitola Road.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

A 2-acre site at 1777 Capitola Road could be turned into 60 to 70 units to house Live Oak School District workers. Officials are mulling a 2024 bond measure, and a district committee also aims to explore ways to include two community organizations now headquartered at the site in the development.

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Live Oak School District could soon join a list of other local education agencies to build housing for its staff and educators amid a worsening housing affordability crisis that has teachers seeking higher-paying jobs in neighboring counties’ public school systems.

The district assembled 22 people, including elected Santa Cruz County officials, teachers union members and school principals as well as leaders from local community organizations, as part of its early discussions to build as many as 60 to 70 workforce housing units on a nearly 2-acre site the district owns at 1777 Capitola Road, across the street from Live Oak Elementary School.

Those discussions include potentially seeking a bond in 2024 to fund the project, according to LOSD Superintendent Daisy Morales.

“It’s a way of valuing what our teachers do,” she said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘Hey, we value what you do, you’re great at what you do — here’s a way that you can stay in the area and continue to do good work for kids without struggling to make ends meet.’”

The development could be completed a couple of years following the bond’s approval, if it is scheduled and approved by voters in fall 2024, Morales estimates. She has met with Santa Cruz City Schools Superintendent Kris Munro — whose district successfully won a bond that directs some funding for workforce housing — for inspiration for her own district. Plans at this point are in the preliminary stages, and there are still many details to work out, such as the number and kinds of units, the rental rates, how much money to propose for a bond — which would also direct funds to repairing and renovating the district’s schools.

Live Oak School District Superintendent Daisy Morales discusses workforce housing in her office.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Another factor getting worked out in committee meetings is how two community organizations that have been renting office space at the site for years could potentially be included in the new development. The organizations are struggling to find new locations and are concerned about the impacts on their services.

Meals on Wheels and Senior Network Services have offices and a kitchen in two buildings. The organizations have searched for a new location in light of the district’s plans, but haven’t secured new space.

“So now, how can we partner to make it a win-win for everybody? Which is the end goal?” said Morales. “We’re still considering a kind of joint venue. But we have no idea what that would look like yet.”

The district’s schools include three elementary schools, one middle school and one online alternative program. Tierra Pacific Charter School, while chartered by the district, is entirely independent and is run by its own board.

The district is among the few in Santa Cruz County whose schools are within walking distance of each other. Del Mar Elementary, Green Acres Elementary, Live Oak Elementary and Shoreline Middle School are within blocks of one another or located on 17th Avenue — making the 1777 Capitola Road site convenient for staff and teachers.

The district’s workforce includes about 280 certificated teachers, classified staff and administrative employees. Those employees are currently filling out a survey that will help the district determine who would consider living in the workforce housing, what kinds of units are preferred and what rates employees consider acceptable.

Jeremy Powell, a co-president of the district’s teachers union, said he fully supports the project. Of the 12 or so teachers who left the district last year, about seven departed because of their struggles to afford housing, he said.

“I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “I wish they thought about this 20 years ago.”

Powell said he hopes the project will be environmentally sustainable and near public transportation. He also emphasized the importance of prioritizing housing for workers who are directly providing services to students, whether that’s in the classroom or in the cafeterias.

His colleague Lauren Pomrantz sits on the ad-hoc committee representing the Live Oak Elementary Teachers Association members. Also on the committee are two school principals, Santa Cruz County Supervisor Manu Koenig and representatives from the Senior Council and Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels has been operating out of that location since 1976. It’s one program of many run by nonprofit Community Bridges, which operates resource centers across the county that offer family services and educational programs. Communications Manager Tony Nuñez and CEO Ray Cancino say having to look for a new location is enormously costly for the organization.

Meals on Wheels, which has served more than 10 million meals to older Santa Cruz County residents in almost 50 years on...

They’re discussing how they can come to an agreement with the district, but it’s been hard.

“I totally understand what they need to do. With every single school district just being pinched by workforce housing, just like every other employer is being pinched by how expensive it is to live here,” said Nuñez. “It’s a great site, it’s right across the street from one of their major schools. So it would be great to have the teacher housing there. But I think that our position at the beginning was exactly what it is right now — that site has been a hub for a lot of older adults in the area, and I think that there’s potential there to partner on something.”

Meals on Wheels’ space includes a kitchen, dining space and offices. The organization estimates it would have to spend more than $180,000 to move to a new location — which would require it to serve 18,000 fewer meals annually. Prior to the pandemic, the site was serving meals to between 40 to 50 older adults.

The building it’s currently in is also in need of major repairs, which could cost between $200,000 and $500,000. The parking lot, roof and heating, ventilating and air conditioning system need to be replaced. The Live Oak school board, however, decided last year that it wouldn’t support spending money on repairing those buildings.

Morales said discussions are ongoing with the organizations. She said regardless of whether or not an agreement is reached, they’ll have to move at some point while construction is underway.

“If they were to tell us, ‘We need six to 16 months, 18 months, to find a permanent home,’ then that’s something we would do,” she said.

Nuñez said that Community Bridges has proposed that Meals on Wheels and Senior Network Services be allowed to stay in the facility for the period prior to any groundbreaking -- potentially 1.5 years. They sent the district a letter requesting that in February.

“We have made that request, and we haven’t heard yes or no yet to that,” said Nuñez. Morales said the proposal has “come up as a possibility,” but the board has not yet made a decision.


This story was updated on April 4 with additional comments from Tony Nuñez and Daisy Morales about Community Bridges’ request to stay in the location, and to clarify the full name of Senior Network Services.


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