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LAUSD miscalculated plan for affordable housing for teachers

Vanessa Romo | May 23, 2014

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Six years ago the LA Unified School Board approved a program to build affordable “workforce housing” for teachers to live closer to schools where they work.

But now, with one project nearing completion and two others in the planning stages, the district concedes that it has absolutely no control over who gets to live there, defeating the purpose of the project.

“Legally, it could never be restrictive to only LAUSD employees because the folks who are building it are applying for tax credits from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies,” Krisztina Tokes, the district’s director of planning and development told LA School Report.

“As a result of getting those tax credits they have to make housing available for everyone who qualifies,” she said.

By partnering with private developers, in this case Bridge Housing, to build the affordable housing complex called Sage Park Apartments in Gardena, and allowing them to use a combination of private and public funds, LA Unified forfeited control of the project. It cannot guarantee that any of the 90 units that will be available for rent below market value later this year will go to anyone employed by the district.

At this point, LA Unified’s only involvement is a “ground lease” for 3.5 acres to Bridge Housing for $22 million over 66 years. The district will also collect a percentage of the rental income derived from the property.

“So the tenants would be tenants of the Bridge Housing developers, and they have to certify the applicants,” Tokes said.

What can the district can do on behalf of its workforce, as the board originally intended?

“We can notify our folks first and market it to our employees, so that they’ll have advance notice,” Tokes said. “They can get a jump start on the application.”

But that seems like a feeble attempt to make up for the lofty goals set out in the initial 2007 proposal, presented to the board by John Creer, who was the Director of Planning  Development.

Back then, Creer sent an interoffice correspondence to the board and then Superintendent David Brewer, making the case for affordable/workforce housing as a way to ensure a steady stream of revenue for decades to come. It would also serve as an enticement to “attract and retain a significant pool of employees and reduce costs generated by teacher turnover due to the high cost of living in Los Angeles County.”

The 2007 board, which included current members Monica Garcia, Tamar Galatzan and President Richard Vladovic, was treated to several presentations detailing teacher turnover in areas with skyrocketing rents. (It was the height of the real estate bubble after all.)

They were told by officials in the LA Unified Facilities department that areas with high rents like Hollywood, for example, experienced a 57 percent turnover of new teachers within three years of hiring, whereas, low rent areas, like East Los Angeles, only had an 18 percent turnover rate during the same time frame.

Another study concluded many LAUSD teachers live far from where they work, and their travel time is a leading reason why they leave. According to a 2006-07 exit survey of LAUSD teachers leaving the District, “14 percent of the non-retiring teachers who resigned said they left because their travel time and/or distance between home and work was too long.”

The arguments were persuasive, and eventually the board approved the Sage Project near Gardena High School, another near Selma Elementary close to the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Highland Ave., and a third near Norwood Elementary, near where the 10 and 110 freeways meet. They did it without, apparently, taking into account state and federal housing regulations that prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment.

But housing laws are not the only problem.

The district’s affordable housing program also establishes income limits that put the houses built for teachers out of range for them.

Lyn Hikida, Director of Communications for Bridge Housing, told LA School Report only applicants earning 30 to 60 percent of the area median income would be eligible to rent the one- to three-bedroom units. That means that to qualify, a potential renter can earn an annual income ranging from approximately $24,840 to $49,680 for a four-person household.

The average teacher salary is about $68,000 a year, putting teachers far beyond the maximum limit.

Monthly rents will range from $431 to $1,241 depending on factors such as income, household and apartment size.

Tokes says that still leaves “your teachers’ aides, your nurses, and your entry level paramedics” eligible to move in.

As construction on the $28 million complex continues in Gardena, plans are underway for the two other developments. A report given to the board in 2009 describes a 60-unit building in Hollywood to accommodate teachers in 20 units and other LA Unified employees in the other 40. As far as anybody knows the project will be subject to the same restrictions as Gardena.

Did the 2007 board contemplate the restrictions that essentially nullified the intent of the program? Uncertain. Neither Garcia, Galatzan nor Vladovic responded to requests for comment. Steve Zimmer, whose district includes the projected site for the Hollywood project, also did not respond to a request seeking comment.

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