California School District Turns Land Into Teacher Housing

A soaring cost of living is making schoolteachers an endangered species in Northern California.

August 31, 2002


KTGY Group Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based land-planning and residential design firm, supplied the plan and design for Casa del Maestro. The design was inspired by the landmark homes in San Francisco’s Presidio district, a former Army base.

A soaring cost of living is making school teachers an endangered species in Northern California. That’s why the Santa Clara Unified Elementary School District, which recently experienced a 300% increase in teacher attrition, took the unusual step of building apartments for its teachers on school land.

The idea, the deal that made it a reality, and the design of the resulting Casa del Maestro are serving as a model for school boards in other high-cost-of-living areas around the country. Officials from several districts have toured the project to understand how it works.

These are the key elements of the deal:




  •   Surplus land elimi-nated acquisition costs for the district.



  •   With low interest rates prevailing, the project was 100% capitalized by tax-exempt financing, so the district did not have to use any capital.



  •   A nonprofit, third-party entity will collect rents and manage the site for the district in perpetuity.

    From the school board’s perspective, the project addresses two primary issues, says Bruce Dorfman, a principal with Thompson Residen-tial Partners LLC, Sausalito, Calif., which built Casa del Maestro. First, the district can attract and retain 40 teachers with rents of one-third to 40% of the local rate. (The program is available to teachers who have been in the district for less than three years.) Second, through a required mortgage assistance program with savings incentive, teachers who live there can save money for a down payment on a home in the area.

    “It has been shown that teachers who buy homes in the area where they work have much longer tenures,” says Dorfman.

    The deal was not a moneymaker for Thompson, Dorfman says, but was its way of contributing to the community’s long-term viability for families. During the past 10 years, Thompson has built 3,000 rental and for-sale units in Santa Clara.

    About 100 teachers en-tered a lottery to live in the units, increasing the likelihood that an adjacent parcel will be similarly developed.

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