Why Arizona Is Building Tiny Homes for School Teachers

By Megan Kimble

Sydney Scharer teaches fifth grade at Senita Valley Elementary School in Vail, Arizona, a small but fast-growing community in the Sonoran Desert southeast of Tucson. The Vail School District spans 425 square miles of adobe-style suburban housing developments sprawling amid the stands of saguaro and ocotillo in the foothills of the Rincon and Santa Rita Mountains. According to Zillow, the average home price is $258,600—and there are no apartments located within district boundaries.

“The lowest rent you can find for a house in Vail is $1,200,” Scharer says. In her fifth year of teaching, Scharer makes $38,000 a year. So Scharer lived with her fiancé in a 600-square-foot apartment in Tucson: She paid $850 a month in rent and drove the 25 miles to work every day. “It was the closest thing we could get to Vail and still keep our rent reasonable,” she says.

A lot of her colleagues came up with the same solution to the Vail School District’s housing challenges. But last fall, the district sent out an email to its staff, asking if anyone might be interested in living in a planned community of two dozen 300- to 400-square-foot homes on district-owned land. Scharer was the first to jump at the opportunity. “I wanted to be more in the community,” she says.

Across the country, teachers often struggle to find affordable housing in the communities where they teach, most famously in high-cost places like Silicon Valley. Some school districts have started addressing this affordability crisis by building teacher- and staff-only housing, often in the form of apartment complexes. Vail is the first district in the country to try another tack: tiny homes.

Read more here.

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