Business & Economy

SF moves to house teachers, but LA knows it's not so easy

The Los Angeles Unified School District has three buildings with units for staff in Gardena, Hollywood and University Park.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has three buildings with units for staff in Gardena, Hollywood and University Park.
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A movement is afoot in Northern California to provide affordable housing to teachers, who are in short supply, especially in high-cost cities. But in Los Angeles, housing teachers has been easier said than done. 

This month, the mayor of San Francisco dedicated $44 million to building teacher housing and one school district in Silicon Valley  is offering below-market housing to some new employees.

Both locations could take a lesson from L.A. Unified School District. The district has worked to develop below-market apartments for its workforce — but not one has ever been occupied by a teacher.

The district partnered with affordable housing developers who got government funding to build, but it came with strings attached, said Mark Hovatter, the district’s chief facilities executive. Tenants have to make between 30 to 60 percent of the area median income. And teachers earn above that.

"Until there is someone that can come with a funding stream that makes our teachers eligible, we’re going to be challenged,"  Hovatter said.

Instead, it's been lower-paid staff such as teacher aides, custodial staff, and cafeteria workers who have moved into the two apartment buildings on L.A. Unified property – one in Gardena, the other in Hollywood. District staffers are given preference. If there are extra units, they are offered to the general public. 

A third building is opening later this year in University Park. More than 900 district employees have applied to live in one of the 29 units.

While the hope had been to help teachers as well, the district goal was always to make L.A. affordable for "all our employees," Hovatter said.

"We have 128 families who‘ve been able to take advantage of the housing that was provided," Hovatter said. "I don't think those people would say this project was a failure. We view it as a rousing success."  

Housing L.A.'s teachers, in the meantime, remains a problem.

Real estate research firm Trulia reports that just 17 percent of teachers can afford homes, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment numbers for May 2016.


Hovatter says the district still wants to create more housing. But even as other districts in California shift their focus onto teachers, L.A. Unified will be looking next to house students and families facing homelessness, he said. 

One possibility is combining a residential complex with a job training center and locating it by a school with declining enrollment.