At their regular meeting on Jan. 16, the Board of Trustees for the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District received preliminary information on the feasibility of converting the mostly vacant Redwood Elementary School on Hwy. 9 into a “work force housing” development for teachers.

According to the contracted consultants for the project, the preliminary site analysis and building assessment was positive and more detailed financial feasibility for the project is expected at the next meeting of the school board on Feb. 6.

“I’ve worked with a lot of school conversions to housing, and often it doesn’t work very well. But this school — it really does work well. These classrooms can easily be converted to residential,” said Scott Shelton, a subcontractor to STACKED, Inc. which was contracted by the district for the feasibility study.

The feasibility study of the 28 acre site is looking into the possibility of converting six classroom buildings into approximately 33 housing units with one and two bedrooms. The cost estimate of the conversion, as well as proposed rent levels the district might consider charging, was not included in the board workshop on Feb. 6, but is expected to be discussed at the next district board meeting scheduled for Feb. 6.

“The goals of this project are to provide a housing option to employees in a tight and Santa Cruz housing market. Many new teachers and staff members simply cannot afford to even rent an apartment. If we can offer new teachers a reasonably priced apartment for a few years, they may just want to put down roots here,” wrote district superintendent Laurie Bruton in an email to the Press Banner.

The starting salary for an elementary school teacher in the San Lorenzo Valley School District is about $53,000 per year, or about $25.50 an hour, according to district information. In a housing study conducted by the California Housing Partnership Corporation last year, it was found that single renters need to make more than $50 per hour to afford Santa Cruz County’s median asking rent of $2,650 per month.

“This is a preliminary and exploratory inquiry into the option of SLVUSD developing affordable housing as one way to help attract and retain teachers and staff in our District. There is a significant and growing teacher shortage in California, and if a teacher can’t afford to live in our community, that teacher will leave our community, and both our students and our community will suffer,” wrote George Wylie, board president in an email to the Press Banner.

“The idea is for work force housing – for our teachers and staff- because the market is so crazy high,” said board member Laura Dobson at the meeting. “It’s not really meant for permanent housing, it’s more of a transition housing that teachers and staff can benefit from until they save up a down payment,” Dobson added.

In September, 2016, the state legislature passed the Teacher Housing Act of 2016, SB-1413, aimed at providing affordable housing for teachers and school district employees by converting land owned by school districts to develop income-restricted housing. The law would permit school districts to restrict such housing to only teachers and staff in their districts, as well as establish programs that leverage state and federal funding for financing the projects.

A similar but much bigger plan of building housing for teachers and staff on former school campuses in San Jose was met with “a massive backlash” from parents of students and neighborhood residents in the vicinity of the schools proposed to be relocated back in October, according to published reports.

The Feb. 6 meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District board room, 325 Marion Avenue in Ben Lomond.

Contact Patrick Dwire at pdwire@pressbanner.com or (831)438-2500.

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