OAKLAND — City leaders are hoping to expand a pilot program aimed at retaining early-career public school teachers by subsidizing their housing.
Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammel announced the pilot on Monday at a news conference in front of the Paloma Apartments in Oakland’s Laurel neighborhood, where the program currently houses six graduate school students who are working as student teachers in the district while obtaining their teaching credential.
The pilot is funded by $150,000 worth of donations from the Community Development Finance nonprofit, and a handful of philanthropic entities, including the Pritzker Foundation, the Hellman Foundation and the California Endowment, which matched subsidies provided by the property owner.
The property company, 2B Living, gives about a 20 percent discount on rent, and the donations make up the difference between the discounted rent and the amount that the teacher residents pay — about $375 per month, said Audrey Olushola Momoh, an education program associate in the mayor’s office. The residents have a one-year lease at the Paloma apartments, and the mayor’s office staff is exploring options for subsidizing their housing after that lease ends.
In addition to paying the bulk of six teachers’ rent at those apartment units, the pilot this year is paying for $1,500 a month toward one student teacher’s housing costs elsewhere, and monthly $500 stipends to five new teachers in the district, Schaaf said on Monday.
Officials said Monday they hope to use the program to recruit and retain more than 100 teachers over the next nine years, particularly teachers of science, math and other subjects that the district has a difficult time recruiting and keeping.
Each group of teachers in the residency program commits to teaching at the district for four years after they complete their residency year, and the program will subsidize the costs of housing in some form during those years.
“It is critical that we help our educators grow roots here in Oakland,” said Johnson-Trammell, in a written statement. “We want to bring more teachers of color to Oakland, and we want all of our outstanding educators to stay here as long as possible.”
She’ll be tasked with finding other solutions to alleviate the housing crisis for both teachers and students, according to a resolution passed by the Oakland Unified board last week. The resolution directs the superintendent to create a plan by March to identify potential sites to build housing for district students, families and staff.
The resolution, presented by outgoing District 3 director Jumoke Hinton Hodge, does not commit the district to any particular plan but rather kickstarts a process to explore how the district could get into the business of connecting teachers and students with housing, either directly or through partnerships with organizations.
It also addresses more urgent housing needs, calling for the district to “immediately explore” developing modular or portable housing options for unsheltered youth or unaccompanied minors.
At a board meeting last month where the resolution was introduced, Hinton Hodge said the plan involves “leveraging our public trust to do public good and interrupt homelessness.”
“This is a public good conversation but also a fiscal solvency conversation,” she said then, noting that the right plan could financially benefit the struggling district, although she did not provide specifics about what that might look like.
The move comes as other districts around California have approved and even broken ground on projects to build housing for teachers. The idea has often been discussed as an attempt to retain teachers in the Bay Area, which, according to an analysis by EdSource, has the largest disparity between teachers’ salaries and the cost of rental housing in all of California.
The Santa Clara Unified School District was among the first districts to build affordable housing for teachers with its Casa del Maestro apartments, which it built in phases from 2002 to 2009. And a 2016 law — the Teacher Housing Act of 2016 — allows school districts to provide affordable housing specifically for their employees.
According to the resolution brought to the board, Oakland Unified enrolled more than 1,000 students during the 2018-19 school year who identified as homeless and were living in shelters, motels, cars, with other families or in other unstable housing situations.
San Francisco’s “stay over” program, which identified families who were unsheltered and allowed them to stay overnight in the gymnasium of a Mission District school, found that most of the families who used the shelter were able to then find transitional housing or rent on their own. Administrators of the program were able to connect the families using the gym with the city’s homeless services, according to a report from the controller’s office.
How Oakland Unified’s housing effort goes will be largely up to a new board, as the majority of the existing board steps down after their last meeting in December and new elected directors take their place — in Districts 1, 3, 5 and 7 — in January.
The new board, and the school district’s administration, will have their hands full in remedying the district’s fiscal challenges and related layoffs, as well as grappling with if and how to return students and teachers to the classroom amid an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that is entering yet another deadly surge.
Some additional funding is coming, although it will be reserved only for building and infrastructure costs. While election results aren’t yet certified, early returns indicate that voters approved Measure Y, a bond measure estimated to provide $735 million to the school district for infrastructure improvements. A project list put together by board members calls for making certain improvements a priority, ranging from building additional classrooms to new school kitchens to making seismic retrofits at certain schools.