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Calif. Teachers Get Cheap Apartments

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — With housing prices climbing out of sight in booming San Francisco, the school system plans to take the extraordinary step of building a rent-subsidized apartment house for teachers only.

And for the first time anywhere in the nation, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is helping out by giving its backing to bank loans.

San Francisco's 4,300 public school teachers average $40,000 a year in a city where the median home price is $470,000 and a one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,900 a month.

Ground will be broken in September on the 43-unit apartment house, which will be built in the city's middle-class Sunset District and will share a lot with a new elementary school. One-bedroom apartments are expected to rent for about $700 a month.

According to HUD, the construction will cost about $10 million and the land is worth about $2 million.

HUD and the district eventually hope to offer 1,000 units to the city's teachers, some as rentals and others as rent-to-own.

``There's nothing shockingly revolutionary about it. We just have a new customer and they're getting into the business out of necessity,'' said Arthur Agnos, a regional HUD director and former San Francisco mayor.

Around the country, it isn't unusual for school districts to subsidize teachers' housing. Many rural areas, in particular, offer housing subsidies or low-cost housing loans to attract teachers. But San Francisco's idea goes beyond that.

Since it was approved last month, school systems in Seattle, Boston and other cities have expressed interest in the plan, which involves HUD's backing for construction loans and mortgage insurance.

The San Francisco district hasn't decided how to select which teachers will get apartments once the building is completed in 2002. A lottery is one possibility.

It will probably come too late for Paul Kandell, 33, who teaches journalism at the elite Lowell High School and makes about $35,000 a year.

``I feel like I'm slipping down to poor or working-class,'' said Kandell, who now spends less than $1,000 a month for a rent-controlled two-bedroom apartment he has lived in for 10 years.

He is considering moving with his wife, also a teacher, and their 2-year-old daughter to Silicon Valley, where he said he could earn 50 percent more in the public schools.

``I'm a teacher who loves his job. I'm working at the best school in the district. If I'm not going to stay, I can only imagine what it's like at other schools,'' Kandell said. ``It's purely money.''

Mary Anne Wold, a 50-year-old high school teacher, said the apartment building plan is a desperate, quick-fix approach by school officials whose priorities are out of whack. She said the district's priority ought to be higher salaries.

``We would like to live where we want to live. If we had commensurate salaries, this wouldn't be a problem,'' she said.

But school board president Mary Hernandez said even tripling salaries wouldn't help teachers buy homes or afford rents.

Kent Mitchell, president of the San Francisco teachers union, said he also wants salaries increased but thinks the HUD plan in the meantime is a good one.

``This is a way of taking some of a school district's wealth'' — its land — ``and passing that to teachers in an indirect way,'' Mitchell said.

Other recently proposed solutions to the teacher housing crisis were political non-starters.

Few teachers liked the idea of moving to vacant former Navy housing on Treasure Island, a windswept, isolated spot in San Francisco Bay. And Gov. Gray Davis's suggestion to do away with state income taxes for teachers across California also failed to impress lawmakers or teachers, who said they preferred salary increases.
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