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Mayor Lee to spend $44 million on SF teacher housing

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The site of the former Francis Scott Key Elementary School has been chosen as the location to build 135 affordable units for teachers. (Joel Angel Juárez/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco is finally responding to the teacher housing crisis with a brick-and-mortar solution from Mayor Ed Lee, who announced Thursday that he will spend $44 million to build homes for public school educators.

Criticizing city and school officials for taking too long to roll out a plan to build teacher housing, the mayor found local funding to put toward building 135 affordable units at the former Francis Scott Key Elementary School in the Outer Sunset.

The local funding means that the San Francisco Unified School District can offer homes specifically to middle-income teachers, who would not be eligible for affordable housing built with federal tax credits. Federal funding comes with rules and regulations that have made it tough for city and school officials to pencil out plans for teacher housing.

“We couldn’t afford to sit back and wait for solutions to slowly develop when it came to housing for our teachers,” the mayor said in an email. “Our educators make up a key part of working class families in this city. We need to find solutions to keep them living in San Francisco.”

But questions still remain as to what short-term solutions there are for teachers and paraprofessionals who may soon leave San Francisco for cheaper rent and higher pay elsewhere.

“It’s a good start, but it doesn’t deal with the very real crisis,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who wants San Francisco to build as many as 2,000 units of affordable housing for educators. “No teacher will be able to move into that site for four years.”

It was not known where the housing would be built until Thursday, when the mayor announced it would be located at the campus on 43rd Avenue and Kirkham Street.

Since 2014, city officials and the teachers union have worked on short-term solutions for educators like down-payment assistance programs and eviction support services.

“We are pleased with the pieces that we were able to put in place for our members so far,” said Lita Blanc, president of the United Educators of San Francisco. “As far as the brick-and-mortar, it’s been a long time coming.”

But plans to construct teacher housing had been held up with questions about who could be eligible for units built with federal or local funding, and where the funding would come from, according to Myong Leigh, SFUSD’s deputy superintendent of policy and operations.

“This is a larger issue than we are equipped to solve ourselves,” Leigh said, noting that the mayor’s involvement has been pivotal. “We’re going more deeply into this territory than we have before.”

Leigh said city and school officials tried to make sure that the SFUSD did not end up in a predicament like the Los Angeles Unified School District, which built three affordable-housing developments for teachers using federal tax credits.

Income restrictions on the units have prevented teachers from moving in as a result.

But the SFUSD no longer appears to have that problem now that the mayor has committed $44 million from 2015’s Proposition A Housing Bond and the Housing Trust fund.

The local funding will cover the costs of about 80 units for middle-income teachers.

“In our case, the fact that we have a pretty significant contribution from The City will allow us to offer these units — many of the units — to employees that make more than the limits,” Leigh said.

Federal tax credits, with income restrictions set at 60 percent of the area median income, will cover the costs of 55 units for paraprofessionals.

A bill from former state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, also paved the way for the brick-and-mortar plans, allowing school districts in California to use tax credits and surplus land to build housing specifically for teachers.

“We can’t do this without The City and for them to put forward real money and commit to working with us to iron out the details is a huge step forward,” said Board of Education Commissioner Matt Haney. “They build housing, we make sure that kids are educated.”

The mayor has directed the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development to issue a request for proposals as soon as possible.

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