Graphic by Aletheia Ju
Graphic by Aletheia Ju
Aletheia Ju

Elusive living

Cupertino’s housing market creates an unsustainable environment for long term residence
Teachers’ views on housing in Cupertino

For nine years, biology teacher Lora Lerner rented an expensive apartment on her own in Los Gatos. However, when online school began during the pandemic, she moved to Monterey Bay with her partner. After in-person school resumed, the long commuting time from Monterey to school pushed Lerner to look for a place close to MVHS. Luckily, she found an apartment that was not only close to MVHS but also $1000 cheaper per month than her apartment in Los Gatos.

“I frankly got a good deal,” Lerner said. “I just kind of lucked out. They gave me a discount because I was a teacher, so that was really awesome. My intent, of course, is to hold on to that place because it’s really hard to get a place for a good price in this area.”

Now, Lerner spends part of her week at her house on the border of Cupertino and San Jose near MVHS and the rest of her time in Monterey Bay. Even though Lerner appreciates the short commuting time from her newly rented apartment to MVHS, she finds the beautiful scenery and the time she spends with her partner and cats in Monterey Bay more important than saving a few minutes. 

Lerner explains that she is fortunate to have two houses that can fulfill her desire to live near the ocean and also allow her to easily commute to school. However, she notes that a lot of teachers have to choose what they value the most, whether that is saving money or having more free time to spend.  

Math teacher Josh Kuo had to make this choice when he was offered a job at MVHS. Kuo was already living in San Jose, but he thought of moving to Cupertino to avoid having to wake up early and arrive home late. Ultimately, the housing prices deterred him, and Kuo decided to stay in his current home. 

It’s hard enough to buy a house in the Bay Area, let alone Cupertino,” Kuo said. ”It’s just one of the higher pricing ranges that we have. I already have a place to live, so I don’t have to buy something more expensive here. The trade off obviously is to wake up a little earlier and fight through the rush hour a little bit, but overall, I think it’s worth it.”

Kuo usually takes around 30 to 40 minutes to get to school, leaving his house around 7 to 7:15 a.m. As for going home, since school usually ends when rush hour starts, Kuo often stays at school for a while before returning home. 

Although Kuo does not mind the long commute times, Lerner highlights how many teachers do not want to drive long distances nor pay for the expensive rents. She explains that as a result, many of her colleagues ended up moving away, causing the school to lose many exceptional teachers. 

“In the bigger picture, it’s an issue that a lot of teachers can’t afford to live in this area,” Lerner said. “Before the pandemic, we actually lost a lot of really good teachers, especially the younger teachers who wanted to start a family, who were very open and saying, ‘We love teaching here, but we can’t afford to live here and we can’t afford to buy a house to have a family.’ They moved, and they’re like, ‘We just can’t do this.’”

Ultimately, Lerner highlights how the high cost of houses in Cupertino is a huge issue for the district. There are many factors, such as the high-tech companies near Cupertino, that are causing housing costs to rise, but Kuo believes the best way to resolve this issue is to increase wages. However, he also recognizes that teachers here already receive a much higher salary than other districts. 

According to Niche, the average high school teacher salary is $108,480 in FUHSD and $78,711 in California. Nevertheless, the average base cost of renting an apartment in Cupertino is around $39,696 each year, meaning teachers are spending over 40% of their income solely on housing. With these data in mind, Kuo believes it would be beneficial for the district to increase wages, as it would allow more teachers to reside near MVHS. After all, Kuo stresses that it is important for teachers to live in the community that they teach in.

“The pay difference between districts is obviously huge, and that’s why so many teachers that I know of are willing to commute here,” Kuo said. “We want to get better pay but we also can’t afford to live here, which is unfortunate because I think teaching is supposed to be a community kind of job, where you connect to a community. You do not just teach a subject. You’re also involved in the community, and it’s hard to do that if you don’t live here.”

Parents and students’ views on housing in Cupertino

When math teacher Alan Wong finally returned to the Bay Area in 2010 after renting out a place in Los Angeles for four years, he noticed that the housing landscape was vastly different from what he had remembered. Many years before, when his parents had first bought a house in the Bay Area, they were able to buy a fairly large-sized property within $200,000 to $300,000, but prices had changed dramatically since then. 

“When I first moved here, houses were really cheap back then,” Wong said. “But when I came back to the Bay Area, I was saving up and I bought a house at the time that the recession hit. And so I fully took advantage of the housing market at that time. If you were to ask me nowadays if I could buy a house, I would not be able to afford it.” 

During the 2008 housing market crisis, home values took a nosedive as a result of a poorly managed mortgage system. However, according to Bay Area Market Reports, in the 13 years following the housing market crash, home prices have rebounded, jumping 88% in the midst of a new high-tech boom.

In addition to the influx of high-tech jobs, another reason that many people often choose to move to the Bay Area is for the highly valued school system. According to Public School Review, the Cupertino Union School District is ranked in the top 20% of public school districts in the state with reading and writing proficiency in the top 5% and math proficiency in the top 1%. As a result of increasingly expensive housing, however, senior Himani Jha believes that many residents who moved into the area for the good public school system are also incentivized to leave Cupertino as soon as possible, when their kids graduate. Her family, for example, plans to move out of Cupertino to somewhere in San Jose once Jha graduates high school and they no longer need to stay near MVHS. 


“We can afford a bigger house in San Jose than in Cupertino and my grandparents are staying with us now as well,” Jha said. “So because we have six people in our house, we wanted a bigger house.”

Wong echoes Jha’s sentiment, emphasizing that there are infinitely more housing options both less expensive and larger outside of the Bay Area. However, Wong believes that the local environment and food options are a key factor in what makes Bay Area homes desirable.

“I know anywhere else in the country, I wouldn’t have the delicious food that is offered here,” Wong said. “You know, just being able to take a short drive from our house to mountain trails or go skiing or things like that. I mean, that’s why the barriers are expensive, right? Everything is just so nice.”

Despite her acknowledgement of the high prices, Jha still thinks of Cupertino as a potential place to live in the future, due to her aspirations of going into a field of biotech or computer science. She also notes the strong school system in the area as a point of interest for her. 

“The job opportunities here are really good, and I wouldn’t need to commute or be in traffic that much so I think Cupertino is an ideal place for that,” Jha said. “In the future, if I do have kids, the school district here is also good.”

Wong emphasizes the importance of timeliness when purchasing a home in Cupertino, especially for newer teachers. He highlights the fact that newer teachers struggle more to find an affordable home in Cupertino compared to older teachers who may have purchased their homes decades ago. 

“It depends on the generation,” Wong said. “I know that there are some teachers that live really local. And that may be because they bought their homes in this area a really long time ago and they were able to afford it at the time. Nowadays you even see articles about how it’s even hard for engineers to afford a home in this area. So as a teacher, I definitely cannot afford anything here.” 

Although Wong and Jha both agree that the pricing of houses can make it difficult  to stay in Cupertino long-term, Wong ultimately still views the area as a place of comfort. He admits he’s considered moving to a different place once his kids graduate high school, but for now he’s happy with the life he is able to live here. 

“I really liked the Bay Area for everything that it has to offer in terms of the accommodations,” Wong said. “The local Asian spots that we tend to go to, all the different things that are so accessible to us, just being able to take a drive to Tahoe, Yosemite or even L.A. Everything is just so nearby that it’s really hard for me to think about living anywhere else.”

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