A photo of the site of the proposed workforce housing for Santa Cruz City Schools.

Teacher housing is planned at 313 Swift St. in Santa Cruz. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local)

SANTA CRUZ >> After years of losing teachers to areas with lower housing costs, leaders of Santa Cruz City Schools are trying to keep staff by offering less expensive homes. 

At a community meeting Monday, Santa Cruz residents got their first look at a new version of a proposed four-story housing project that could bring 100 rental units for educators on Swift Street. 

  • The plans call for a 50-foot building with three wings on the 300 block of Swift Street next to Gateway School. The lot is about 4 acres. 
  • The school district is planning to offer rents at 50%-60% of market rate. The homes would not have income restrictions.
  • The school district would own the buildings. Separate firms would construct and manage the buildings. 
  • Construction and upkeep would be financed through bonds approved by district voters in 2022 and a loan. The bond is being repaid with annual property taxes. The loan would be repaid with tenant rents.
The proposed site of a housing development for Santa Cruz City Schools workers.

A teacher housing project is planned next to Gateway School on Swift Street in Santa Cruz. (Santa Cruz City Schools)

An aerial-view rendering of the proposed Santa Cruz City Schools workforce housing.

An aerial rendering of the proposed educator housing project includes two existing single-story buildings. (Santa Cruz City Schools)

Project design

The four-story building would sit between a single-family neighborhood to the south and a commercial and industrial area to the north. “It’s not a low-slung bungalow and it’s not a highrise,” said Zachary Gong, an architect with San Francisco-based EHDD Architecture. 

The Santa Cruz City Schools Board of Education initially approved an 80-unit project. On May 1, the board approved preliminary designs for a larger version of the project with 100 units.

The larger version is “still in a quickly-developing conceptual stage,” Gong said. 

The previous plan called for a four-story building with two wings connected by open-air bridges. The 100-unit building adds a third wing to the building.

The 100-unit project would include:

  • 11 studios, 27 one-bedroom apartments, 46 two-bedroom apartments and 16 three-bedroom apartments.
  • A driveway out to Swift Street and another to Delaware Avenue through the Ivéta Westside parking lot.
  • A walking path through the complex from Swift Street to Sgt. Derby Park
  • 127 surface parking spaces on the north edge of the site, along with sheds for bike storage.
  • Existing buildings on the east side of the site, which would be converted for use by residents and the district.

More details will be available after the district submits a formal application to the city planning department, said Senior Planner Tim Maier. 

“This is essentially a preliminary review of a formal application,” Maier said. “A lot of the questions that are being asked will be answered in time, we just don’t have the information quite yet.”

A site plan depicts the proposed teacher housing at 313 Swift St.

A preliminary site plan shows a three-wing building proposed for 313 Swift St. Two of the wings would be connected by bridges on the upper floors. (Santa Cruz City Schools)

Need for educator housing

The proposed project would serve employees of Santa Cruz City Schools’ two districts with their combined 11 schools.

By providing employee housing, the districts hope to address the “single greatest challenge for our teachers,” said Sam Rolens, chief of communication and community engagement for Santa Cruz City Schools. “We’ve lost over 100 teachers to the cost of living over the last nine years, and most of our declined job offers — 95% — are due to the cost of living and the inability to find housing in Santa Cruz.”

Other districts in the county, including Soquel Union Elementary School District and Live Oak School District, have also considered pursuing educator housing. 

In November 2022, voters in the Santa Cruz City Schools Districts adopted parcel tax measures K and L, approving $371 million in bonds. Some of that money will fund the bulk of the project’s $79 million price tag. A loan to be repaid with tenant rents will cover the remaining cost, Munro said. No money from the districts’ General Funds will go towards the project, she said. 

The bond measures allow the district to offer rents below market rate, Rolens said. “We’re doing everything we can to push them down as much as possible without defaulting on the payback of loans that we’ll have to take out,” he said.

The homes would be open to any district staff except administrators, Munro said. More than 150 employees expressed interest, she said. Tenants would be selected through a lottery, and the district would maintain a waitlist of prospective tenants.

District employment will be part of the rental agreement, Munro said. That means tenants may lose their housing if they lose their jobs.

Four acres at 313 Swift St. include playing fields and a temporary building for the preschool WPENS, or Westside Parent Education Nursery School. (Stephen Baxter — Santa Cruz Local)  

Community responses

Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Renee Golder said she enthusiastically supports the project.  

“I was initially skeptical, and I’ve come 180 degrees,” Golder said. “I’m also the principal at Bayview Elementary, and so I completely understand how recruitment and retention of our Santa Cruz City Schools district employees is vital in ensuring that we have the best staff to care for our students.”

Some attendees said they were concerned about adding traffic to the surrounding neighborhood of single-family homes. Maier said he didn’t think the traffic impact would be large. “Generally speaking, residential projects actually generate a lot less vehicle traffic than one might expect,” he said. “If there is a requirement that a follow up (traffic) study be provided, that will be done, but it doesn’t appear at this point that that’s the case.”

Next steps

Designs for the 100-unit project are set to be considered by the Santa Cruz City Schools Board of Education June 12. 

If approved, district staff plan to submit a full application to the city later that month. Once city staff determine that the application is complete, the project would go to the Santa Cruz Planning Commission for a recommendation, and the Santa Cruz City Council for a final decision. 

The district aims to have tenants move into the project by mid-2028, Munro said.

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Reporter / California Local News Fellow

Jesse Kathan is a staff reporter for Santa Cruz Local through the California Local News Fellowship. They hold a master's degree in science communications from UC Santa Cruz.