LAUSD to investigate affordable housing for its employees

LOS ANGELES >> As part of an effort to attract and retain teachers and other school employees, officials for the Los Angeles Unified School District announced on Wednesday, June 9, an initiative to provide 2,000 affordable housing units so employees can live in the communities where they work.

District officials have not made any final determinations about where the affordable units might be built, but they will be considering properties LAUSD owns that are unused or underutilized.

“As we look to recruit the next generation of talent to work in our schools, we have to understand for them to live and work in the communities they serve, they have to be able to afford it,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said during a news conference outside Norwood Learning Village, one of three previous LAUSD workforce housing projects.

The starting salary for a building and grounds worker in the district is about $30,000 and about $50,000 for a teacher, according to Beutner. Based on what they can afford, he said they should only be spending about $800 to $1,200 per month on rent — much less than what the market is going for in many places in pricey L.A. For example, in the West Adams neighborhood in South L.A. where the Norwood Learning Village complex is located, the average rent is about $1,800 per month for a one-bedroom apartment or $2,100 per month for two bedrooms, the superintendent said.

Christopher Bonnell, a middle school teacher in Panorama City where he also lives, said he spends about 50% of his monthly income on rent. Many of his colleagues, he said, have roommates to share in housing expenses and must put up with long commutes since they can only afford to live in places much further from their schools.

“Affordable housing would … ensure quality teachers come to LAUSD and work in the area they are needed,” he said. “It will simply bolster teacher retention.”

By having employees live closer to the neighborhoods where they work, the idea is that they’ll feel more connected and invested in those communities and, rather than spend hours battling traffic to get to and from work, these employees might use the time to get more involved at their schools, such as serving as a club adviser.

According to a staff presentation prepared for this week’s school board meeting, some employees spend 1.5 hours to 2.5 hours on the road each way to get to and from work.

While such housing projects typically take several years to complete, Beutner said he hopes the latest affordable housing units will go up within the next year or two, as he anticipates the district will, with the cooperation of local city officials, be able to go through expedited permitting processes.

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Wednesday’s announcement came a day after the school board voted 6-1 to authorize staff to do their “due diligence” as they explore affordable housing opportunities for employees and LAUSD families.

Specifically, the board authorized staff to conduct a needs assessment, including surveying employees; issuing a request for proposals to hire a real estate or housing expert to conduct community and stakeholder engagement as well as to reach out to other real estate and financial professionals and city and county officials; and to conduct assessments such as getting underutilized district properties appraised. The board approved $1.5 million in general fund money to pay for this work.

Board member Scott Schmerelson cast the lone dissenting vote, saying he thought the proposal was too vague and did not believe the district should be in the business of real estate development. However, he indicated he might reconsider his vote when actual project proposals come before the board in the future.

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