Silicon Valley housing crisis linked to declining school enrollment, study finds

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April 1, 2022

Two pernicious problems in Silicon Valley — a lack of affordable housing and declining school enrollment — are closely linked, new research shows.

A recent report commissioned by the nonprofit Silicon Valley Community Foundation says building more housing could help reverse the long-term decline in student enrollment in Santa Clara County. Enrollment is expected to decline more than 15% in the county over the decade, from 253,625 students in 2020-21 to 212,501 students by 2030-31.

Report contributors say they want to convince people that more housing will help revive struggling school districts. They say addressing this issue is critical as many South Bay towns are actively updating their plans to determine where to prioritize building new homes, and many local officials are unaware that these issues are related. .

“It’s not on the city’s radar when they take inventory of housing sites, as far as I know,” said Stephen Levy, report author and director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, in San Jose Spotlight. “Nobody thinks to ask whether a school district could really benefit from additional students and additional housing.”

California requires cities to update their housing plans every eight years. The so-called housing element update is reviewed and approved by local authorities in a process that can take more than a year. These updates are designed to meet a state goal set in 2020 to build more than 441,000 in the Bay Area over the next eight years.

The California Department of Finance predicts a steady decline in enrollment in Silicon Valley schools over the next decade. Image courtesy of Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

All cities in Santa Clara County must collectively build 129,577 homes of all income levels by 2031, with San Jose responsible for 62,200 homes.

The report, developed in partnership with Silicon Valley@Home and Palo Alto Forward, focuses on five cities that are updating their housing plans: Cupertino, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. Silicon Valley@Home and Palo Alto Forward are housing advocacy organizations.

According to the report, all of these cities are experiencing a sharp drop in student enrollment. In Cupertino, elementary school enrollment has fallen 17% since 2014-15. In Palo Alto, it has dropped 62% over the past six years.

According to the report, this trend is driven by a long-term decline in birth rates, but also by the more immediate problem of unaffordable housing. According to the US Census Bureau, there has been a steady decline in birth rates across the country since 2008.

Silicon Valley’s birth rate has been falling for more than a decade. Image courtesy of Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“It’s very difficult for a young family to buy a single family home in Silicon Valley,” said Mathew Reed, director of policy for Silicon [email protected], told San Jose Spotlight. “Some of the areas that have not been targeted for a housing boost are areas that have seen the biggest drop in listings.”

Santa Clara County is home to some of the most expensive places in the country. A growing number of people cannot afford to live in the area, and cities are struggling to build housing that is accessible to low- and middle-income people. State laws intended to expand local housing, such as a policy that allows landlords to divide their lots and build more homes, have been met with fierce opposition in San Jose and elsewhere.

Claudia Rossi, Santa Clara County School Board administrator and County Supervisory Board District 1 race candidate, said the trend is contributing to a mass exodus of low-income families. Losing them has a direct impact on school districts, she added.

“You have to have a certain number of students to also be able to employ a certain number of teachers, so declining enrollment leads to job cuts,” she told San José Spotlight. “If the decline in enrollment reaches a certain point, you are looking at school closures – it’s a domino effect.”

This is already the case in the department. Last year, the Alum Rock Union School District Board voted to close two middle schools after noting that enrollment was expected to drop 50% by 2027.

Levy said one of the report’s purposes is to refute an anti-housing argument that adding more homes to a community will overburden local schools. San Jose councilman Dev Davis, who is running for mayor, is fighting a state law that facilitates denser construction in single-family neighborhoods, saying it will overburden local infrastructure, including schools.

“I personally think school quality and changing demographics have a bigger impact on declining enrollment than the state of the housing market, Davis told San Jose Spotlight. “A lot of people vote with their feet and send their kids to private school, if they have that option available to them.”

Gina Dalma, executive vice president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, told San Jose Spotlight that she hopes the report inspires community members, especially people who already care about school issues, to consider these two problems as related.

“If you call yourself an education advocate, make sure you’re involved in housing,” Dalma said.

Contact Eli Wolfe at eli@sanjosespotlight.com or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.


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