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Elite San Jose private school faces a public challenge -- housing

Silicon Valley logo Silicon Valley 6/2/2022 Louis Hansen, Silicon Valley, San Jose, Calif.

May 30—The Harker School boasts of a world-class reputation built over a century, regularly sending graduates to Stanford, Harvard and other elite universities.

But the private school in San Jose shares a problem common to its public-school brethren throughout the Bay Area — the lack of affordable housing for teachers.

Harker has found a solution, quietly buying up two apartment buildings near its campus for $3.8 million to convert to staff housing.

But long-time tenants in the rent-controlled units were stunned to get move-out notices from their new landlords. As many as eight families will likely be displaced, aided by moving grants from the school.

"I was shocked. I was upset," said Jane Kenney, an energetic 84-year-old who has lived in the same Troy Drive apartment for 25 years. "Where am I going to go?"

The displacement highlights a troubling ripple effect of the Bay Area housing crisis — Harker teachers who have waited for nearly a decade to secure a school apartment will displace long-time residents with fewer resources to find safe, affordable housing.

Harker head of school Brian Yager said staff housing has been an ongoing concern. The private school has owned four apartment buildings near their San Jose campus for about 20 years, but even so some staff members have been waiting at least eight years for a spot, he said.

With the high cost of housing in the Bay Area, Yager said, "it's a challenge to attract and retain great teachers."

The demand for affordable teacher housing is a small piece of the Bay Area housing crisis, although one that's been gathering more attention from public and private schools as apartment prices escalate. The median price for a two-bedroom apartment in San Jose is now $3,050, and $2,800 in Oakland and $4,000 in San Francisco, according to listing site Zumper.

The high prices put a squeeze on young teachers. The median teacher salary in the San Jose metro area is about $90,000, and about $86,000 in the East Bay and San Francisco, according to a study by online broker Redfin.

The Harker School pays teachers competitive wages, but not as high as some public schools in the Bay Area, Yager said. He declined to give a salary range for instructors.

Finding teacher housing has been a long-time struggle for Bay Area school districts. Some have used tax dollars to build affordable apartments. A new, publicly-funded 110-unit project in Palo Alto that will provide subsidized units for teachers from five school districts is expected to cost $87 million. In Daly City, the Jefferson Union High School District used voter-approved bonds to build 122-unit project on school property.

For Harker, a private school where annual tuition ranges from about $39,000 for elementary school students to more than $56,000 for high schoolers, the answer has been to purchase and renovate existing buildings.

The school has been looking for opportunities to house more teachers, Yager said. Local real estate agents monitoring the neighborhood alert Harker to offerings on the market.

Including the recent purchases, the school now owns six apartment buildings with about two dozen units near school grounds on Troy Drive and Northlake Drive. Harker bought a fourplex at 525 Northlake Dr. in March for $1.9 million, according to public records. It closed a purchase in late May on another four-unit building on Troy Drive for $1.9 million.

The school said it is reaching out personally to tenants, and offering thousands of dollars to help residents relocate. Troy Drive residents did not immediately receive aid offers after the sale closed last week, but one Northlake resident said he was offered about two months of his current rent, plus $600 for moving expenses. Harker's facilities staff has personally spoken to several tenants to help with their moves, Yager said. "We're trying to be very accommodating," he said.

But neighbors are concerned about their community, a tidy neighborhood of older, two-story apartment buildings adjacent to the upper school campus of the Harker School. Residents in the rent-controlled units often stay for decades, taking advantage of below-market rates and a stable neighborhood. Tenants in the Troy Drive building say they pay between $1,000 and $1,200 a month for their two-bedroom units.

Neighbors consider the tight-knit community a stable, safe and affordable place for working families and retirees on fixed incomes. People look after each other's children, and family gatherings can spill out on to the communal yards and parking lots.

Kenney and other tenants are not angry with Harker, and understand that teachers need housing in the expensive South Bay market. "This is all affordable housing," Kenney said, motioning to her neighborhood.

She has begun searching for affordable apartments near family and friends, from Marin County all the way south to Los Angeles, she said. "I've been looking, but there's not much available."

Cindy and David Elemen raised their three children in the building. They don't know what the future will hold, but they expect to pay twice their current $1,200 rent to find a comparable San Jose apartment.

"We don't want to leave the area because our families are here," said Cindy Elemen. "It's going to be devastating."

Stephen Han has lived in the Northlake Drive apartment building with his dogs and cats for 15 years. The school wants him to leave by the end of May, but Han is having a difficult time finding a two-bedroom apartment that accepts pets.

He pays about $1,800 a month for his rent-controlled unit, but expects to pay more in a new apartment. The school has offered him about $4,200 to help him relocate, but he doesn't think that will be enough.

"I keep looking," said Han, 42, who runs a dental lab in San Jose. "But if I can't find anything, I might be out on the street."

Darlynn Ricks's family has owned a fourplex on Troy Drive for about 40 years, she said. Every once in a while, a real estate agent or a school representative will ask if they're interested in selling.

They've refused every offer, she said. But she knows the school's need for teacher housing. "If people want to sell, they want to buy," Ricks said. "Their employees want somewhere to live."

(c)2022 Silicon Valley, San Jose, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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