On February 6, Berkeley Housing Opportunities for Municipal Employees (BeHOME), an organization founded in 2017, presented an innovative plan to the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) to create affordable housing for BUSD educators. The plan calls for using land owned by the school district on Bonar Street for the development of 100 housing units.
To cover the costs of the housing construction, BeHOME proposes to use funds from Measure O, a tax passed in 2018 for the purpose of building more affordable housing in Berkeley. The group proposed building a combination of studio, one bedroom, two bedroom, and three bedroom apartments. The board’s reaction was very positive, and many members thanked BeHOME for its efforts to date.
BeHOME is comprised of numerous community members from around the Bay Area, including BUSD parents, employees, and former Berkeley School Board President Josh Daniels. BeHOME’s goal of creating affordable housing for BUSD teachers and staff is based on the group’s conviction that the entire Berkeley community will benefit when teachers are able to live close to their jobs.
The founder of BeHOME, David Mayer, who has lived in Berkeley for over 40 years, was inspired to create this organization after seeing how high housing prices were impacting Bay Area residents.
“I have witnessed with the decreased availability of affordable housing the migration of middle class individuals and families,” Mayer said. “This results in a major decrease in economic diversity; and, with the decrease in economic diversity come other decreases in diversity,” he continued.
A parent member of the group, Mark Galbraith, was motivated to join the group for similar reasons. He felt that educators play a critical role in society. “Fundamentally, I believe our educators, teachers and staff, are woefully under-compensated given the important role they play in our families’ lives and shaping our community,” Galbraith said.
The high costs of living have prompted many teachers to leave their jobs, as they can no longer afford to work in the areas near the schools they teach in. This is a problem in Berkeley, where a survey done by Redfin in 2016 found that only 1.6 percent of houses in Alameda County are affordable to teachers. Another survey, conducted by the UC Center for Cities & Schools in 2017, found that 54 percent of renters have considered leaving BUSD due to the high cost of living.
Similar efforts to create affordable homes for educators are under way in other Bay Area cities, such as a new housing development started in Menlo Park in 2017 and one in San Francisco in 2018. Both also use a mixed financing model where funding sources are a combination of tax credits, city loans, and investments from a developer with land provided by the city or school district.
BeHOME plans to look to these models for guidance in determining criteria for who is eligible for the workforce housing and ensuring that all the housing units have residents.