S.F. and Daly City embarked on teacher housing projects at the same time. Guess which one has opened?

2022-06-18 12:16:44 By : Mr. Amos O

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Teacher housing wraps around a playground on Serramonte Boulevard in Daly City. Teachers have moved into the homes.

Skaters participate in a skate jam during a closing party at Playland at 43rd Avenue on May 7. Playland will close after six years for construction of the Shirley Chisholm Village educator housing project on the site.

In 2017, San Francisco and Daly City made the same commitment. They pledged to build teacher housing so underpaid educators could have a better chance of living near the schools where they work.

“We have an immediate problem right now,” San Francisco’s Mayor Ed Lee told me back then, having read my column about a high school math teacher with a master’s degree who was homeless. He committed $44 million in city money and picked an Outer Sunset site for teacher housing.

The goal, his housing chief said, was for teachers to move in by 2022 and for more unused property owned by the San Francisco Unified School District to be chosen for additional projects.

That hasn’t happened. None of it. Ground won’t be broken on 135 rental units until at least August at the Francis Scott Key Annex at 1360 43rd Ave., the site of a century-old, ramshackle school district building used mostly for records storage.

No additional site has moved forward for additional teacher housing either, despite promises from the district, and numerous plots of land owned by the district continue to sit mostly unused in a city desperate for housing.

Math teacher Leslie Bell with son Malcolm Dorian, 11, in their two-bedroom apartment in the Daly City teacher housing development.

Fewer than 10 miles away, just over the San Mateo County line, the story has unfolded far differently. Five years after the Jefferson Union High School District said it, too, would turn land it owns into teacher housing, it has actually done it. Teachers have moved into the new 122-unit complex and plans are progressing to add four more residential buildings — priced at market rate to bring revenue to the schools — alongside shops, parks and trails.

About 80% of the project is already leased, and it should be fully rented out when school starts in August. The district is using it as a recruitment tool for new teachers, and eight are in the application process now for new jobs and new apartments. The rents are priced at 58% of market rate and range from $1,356 to $2,511. They’re deducted from teachers’ paychecks.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, a longtime champion of building more housing at all income levels who represents both San Francisco and Daly City in Sacramento, called the discrepancy “embarrassing.”

“Daly City and Jefferson Union have been extremely impressive in how focused and effective they’ve been in getting this project done,” he said. “Meanwhile, San Francisco does what it always does. It dawdles around for years and years having endless discussions while we hemorrhage teachers because they can’t afford to live here. There’s always an excuse, but the results are always the same: San Francisco takes forever to do anything.”

So how did big, rich, cosmopolitan San Francisco fare so poorly in comparison to smaller, less wealthy Daly City? The lessons are important in a region with a sharp need for more housing, particularly for teachers and other middle-income professionals any city needs to function.

Matt Franklin, president and CEO of MidPen Housing Corp., the developer for the San Francisco teacher housing project, acknowledged that the Outer Sunset complex has been “a journey” — and sometimes a frustrating one.

He pointed to two main reasons for the delay. One was 18 months spent on “very extensive community outreach” to craft the design of the project even though there was no big opposition to it. He praised the neighbors as thoughtful, but acknowledged that they “had a lot of points of view.”

The meetings led to the project including a park, public art and ground-floor community space available to the wider neighborhood. That’s great, but surely not worth an 18-month delay when teachers are commuting hours from the wider Bay Area, working two jobs or cramming into other people’s apartments.

Franklin said another two years was lost in the increasingly difficult struggle to win federal tax credits to finance the project, which will cost more than $100 million, not including the value of the land. The state treasurer’s office, which manages the tax credit program, has recently made it harder for places where it’s expensive to build, such as San Francisco, to qualify for them, slowing the affordable-housing development process.

The Mayor’s Office of Housing, a partner in the teacher housing project, last year submitted 16 applications for affordable-housing tax credits and got funding for only two of them, said Anne Stanley, spokesperson for the office.

Daly City didn’t rely on tax credits for its project, instead winning voter approval for $33 million in bonds and securing a loan of $42 million to be paid back through lease revenues. It also didn’t host numerous community forums and bend its design plans to neighbors’ desires, instead focusing on moving teachers in as quickly as possible.

“Really, we just dove in,” said Tina Van Raaphorst, deputy superintendent of Jefferson Union. “One of the main reasons we moved so fast is because of the school board and their passion for the project.”

The Daly City project broke ground in February 2020, and opened its apartments in May.

Playland at 43rd Avenue is currently a skate park, someday to be the site of the Shirley Chisholm Village educator housing project.

Leslie Bell, a math teacher who moved with her two kids into the complex, called it “a whirlwind,” a word never used to describe building housing in San Francisco.

She’s now paying $1,700 a month for a two-bedroom apartment — plus access to a gym, laundry facilities, a playground and community lounges dotted with orchids.

She used to live in the city, where she paid $2,100 for a studio and worked in a private school. She said her friends in the city’s public schools “don’t feel taken care of,” and she can’t quite believe her luck finding a job she likes that provides discounted housing.

“I have a feeling this place is going to spoil me,” she said.

San Francisco teachers should be able to move into their new housing in the fall of 2024, Franklin said, and rents will vary widely depending on the size of the unit and the renter’s income. They could range from $800 for a studio for a someone earning 40% of area median income to $3,500 for a three-bedroom unit for a household earning 120%.

Sam Moss, the executive director of Mission Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit affordable-housing developer, knows intimately how hard it is to build any kind of housing in San Francisco. He’s familiar with both teacher housing projects, though isn’t involved with either.

He said the Daly City project shows that moving with speed is important and that while surveying neighbors sounds nice, it slowed the tax credit process and made construction materials a lot more expensive.

“In Daly City, the city and school district got together, agreed they needed housing and then didn’t ask 8,000 single-family homeowners their opinion about it,” Moss said. “All of the stars aligned in Daly City in a way that I have not seen in my 15-year career. It’s awesome, and it’s a real example of what we could be if we just got out of our own way.”

I’ll credit San Francisco with one tiny win over Daly City. The latter’s project is known just by its address, 705 Serramonte, while the city will call its project Shirley Chisholm Village after the first Black woman to serve in Congress.

So eventually, when teachers do move into their new apartments in nearly 2½ years or more, they’ll live in a complex honoring an amazing woman. It’s just too bad so many of them might wind up quitting their jobs in the city’s schools for cheaper housing elsewhere in the meantime.

Heather Knight is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Email: hknight@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @hknightsf

Heather Knight is a columnist working out of City Hall and covering everything from politics to homelessness to family flight and the quirks of living in one of the most fascinating cities in the world. She believes in holding politicians accountable for their decisions or, often, lack thereof - and telling the stories of real people and their struggles.

She co-hosts the Chronicle's TotalSF podcast and co-founded its #TotalSF program to celebrate the wonder and whimsy of San Francisco.